Articles | Volume 21, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 83–98, 2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 83–98, 2017

Research article 05 Jan 2017

Research article | 05 Jan 2017

Effect of the revisit interval and temporal upscaling methods on the accuracy of remotely sensed evapotranspiration estimates

Joseph G. Alfieri1, Martha C. Anderson1, William P. Kustas1, and Carmelo Cammalleri2 Joseph G. Alfieri et al.
  • 1US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory, Beltsville, MD, USA
  • 2Joint Research Centre, European Commission, Ispra, Italy

Abstract. Accurate spatially distributed estimates of actual evapotranspiration (ET) derived from remotely sensed data are critical to a broad range of practical and operational applications. However, due to lengthy return intervals and cloud cover, data acquisition is not continuous over time, particularly for satellite sensors operating at medium ( ∼  100 m) or finer resolutions. To fill the data gaps between clear-sky data acquisitions, interpolation methods that take advantage of the relationship between ET and other environmental properties that can be continuously monitored are often used. This study sought to evaluate the accuracy of this approach, which is commonly referred to as temporal upscaling, as a function of satellite revisit interval. Using data collected at 20 Ameriflux sites distributed throughout the contiguous United States and representing four distinct land cover types (cropland, grassland, forest, and open-canopy) as a proxy for perfect retrievals on satellite overpass dates, this study assesses daily ET estimates derived using five different reference quantities (incident solar radiation, net radiation, available energy, reference ET, and equilibrium latent heat flux) and three different interpolation methods (linear, cubic spline, and Hermite spline). Not only did the analyses find that the temporal autocorrelation, i.e., persistence, of all of the reference quantities was short, it also found that those land cover types with the greatest ET exhibited the least persistence. This carries over to the error associated with both the various scaled quantities and flux estimates. In terms of both the root mean square error (RMSE) and mean absolute error (MAE), the errors increased rapidly with increasing return interval following a logarithmic relationship. Again, those land cover types with the greatest ET showed the largest errors. Moreover, using a threshold of 20 % relative error, this study indicates that a return interval of no more than 5 days is necessary for accurate daily ET estimates. It also found that the spline interpolation methods performed erratically for long return intervals and should be avoided.