Global trends in evapotranspiration dominated by increases across large cropland regions

Mostafa Javadian, Ali Behrangi, William Kolby Smith, Joshua B. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Irrigated croplands require large annual water inputs and are critical to global food production. Actual evapotranspiration (AET) is a main index of water use in croplands, and several remote-sensing products have been developed to quantify AET at the global scale. In this study, we estimate global trends in actual AET, potential ET (PET), and precipitation rate (PP) utilizing the MODIS Evapotranspiration product (2001-2018) within the Google Earth Engine cloud-computing environment. We then introduce a new index based on a combination of AET, PET, and PP estimates-the evapotranspiration warning index (ETWI)-which we use to evaluate the sustainability of observed AET trends.We show that while AET has not considerably changed across global natural lands, it has significantly increased across global croplands (+14% ± 5%). The average ETWI for global croplands is -0.40 ± 0.25, which is largely driven by an extreme trend in AET, exceeding both PET and PP trends. Furthermore, the trends in water and energy limited areas demonstrate, on a global scale, while AET and PET do not have significant trends in both water and energy limited areas, the increasing trend of PP in energy-limited areas is more than water-limited areas. Averaging cropland ETWI trends at the country level further revealed nonsustainable trends in cropland water consumptions in Thailand, Brazil, and China. These regions were also found to experiencing some of the largest increases in net primary production (NPP) and solar-induced fluorescence (SIF), suggesting that recent increases in food production may be dependent on unsustainable water inputs. Globally, irrigated maize was found to be associated with nonsustainable AET trends relative to other crop types. We present an online open access application designed to enable near real-time monitoring and improve the understanding of global water consumption and availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1221
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Croplands
  • Energy-limited and water-limited
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Google Earth Engine
  • MODIS evapotranspiration product
  • Maize water consumption
  • Solar-induced fluorescence (SIF)
  • Sustainability
  • Trend
  • Water stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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