Hydrologic connectivity constrains partitioning of global terrestrial water fluxes

Science  10 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6244, pp. 175-177
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa5931

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Continental global water filter

Mobile surface waters and soil waters are relatively disconnected on a global scale. Water on land is eventually lost by surface runoff into the oceans or is ultimately sent back to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration processes. Good et al. determined that 65% of continental water evaporation is from soils, which includes water taken up and transpired by plants (see the Perspective by Brooks). Although just a small fraction of global surface waters pass through soils, individual stream ecosystems may be affected by water quality changes in nearby soils.

Science, this issue p. 175; see also p. 138


Continental precipitation not routed to the oceans as runoff returns to the atmosphere as evapotranspiration. Partitioning this evapotranspiration flux into interception, transpiration, soil evaporation, and surface water evaporation is difficult using traditional hydrological methods, yet critical for understanding the water cycle and linked ecological processes. We combined two large-scale flux-partitioning approaches to quantify evapotranspiration subcomponents and the hydrologic connectivity of bound, plant-available soil waters with more mobile surface waters. Globally, transpiration is 64 ± 13% (mean ± 1 standard deviation) of evapotranspiration, and 65 ± 26% of evaporation originates from soils and not surface waters. We estimate that 38 ± 28% of surface water is derived from the plant-accessed soil water pool. This limited connectivity between soil and surface waters fundamentally structures the physical and biogeochemical interactions of water transiting through catchments.

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