Articles | Volume 21, issue 2
Research article
28 Feb 2017
Research article |  | 28 Feb 2017

Trends in atmospheric evaporative demand in Great Britain using high-resolution meteorological data

Emma L. Robinson, Eleanor M. Blyth, Douglas B. Clark, Jon Finch, and Alison C. Rudd

Abstract. Observations of climate are often available on very different spatial scales from observations of the natural environments and resources that are affected by climate change. In order to help bridge the gap between these scales using modelling, a new dataset of daily meteorological variables was created at 1 km resolution over Great Britain for the years 1961–2012, by interpolating coarser resolution climate data and including the effects of local topography. These variables were used to calculate atmospheric evaporative demand (AED) at the same spatial and temporal resolution. Two functions that represent AED were chosen: one is a standard form of potential evapotranspiration (PET) and the other is a derived PET measure used by hydrologists that includes the effect of water intercepted by the canopy (PETI). Temporal trends in these functions were calculated, with PET found to be increasing in all regions, and at an overall rate of 0.021 ± 0.021 mm day−1 decade−1 in Great Britain. PETI was found to be increasing at a rate of 0.019 ± 0.020 mm day−1 decade−1 in Great Britain, but this was not statistically significant. However, there was a trend in PETI in England of 0.023 ± 0.023 mm day−1 decade−1. The trends were found to vary by season, with spring PET increasing by 0.043 ± 0.019 mm day−1 decade−1 (0.038 ± 0.018 mm day−1 decade−1 when the interception correction is included) in Great Britain, while there is no statistically significant trend in other seasons. The trends were attributed analytically to trends in the climate variables; the overall positive trend was predominantly driven by rising air temperature, although rising specific humidity had a negative effect on the trend. Recasting the analysis in terms of relative humidity revealed that the overall effect is that falling relative humidity causes the PET to rise. Increasing downward short- and longwave radiation made an overall positive contribution to the PET trend, while decreasing wind speed made a negative contribution to the trend in PET. The trend in spring PET was particularly strong due to a strong decrease in relative humidity and increase in downward shortwave radiation in the spring.

Short summary
We present a dataset of daily meteorological variables at 1 km resolution over Great Britain (1961–2012), calculated by spatially downscaling coarser resolution datasets, adjusting for local topography, along with derived potential evapotranspiration (PET). A positive trend in PET was identified and attributed to trends in the meteorology. The trend in PET is particularly driven by decreasing relative humidity and increasing shortwave radiation in the spring.