On the theory relating changes in area-average and pan evaporation

W. James Shuttleworth, Aleix Serrat-Capdevila, Michael L. Roderick, Russell L. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Theory relating changes in area-average evaporation with changes in the evaporation from pans or open water is developed. Such changes can arise by Type (a) processes related to large-scale changes in atmospheric concentrations and circulation that modify surface evaporation rates in the same direction, and Type (b) processes related to coupling between the surface and atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) at the landscape scale that usually modify area-average evaporation and pan evaporation in different directions. The interrelationship between evaporation rates in response to Type (a) changes is derived. They have the same sign and broadly similar magnitude but the change in area-average evaporation is modified by surface resistance. As an alternative to assuming the complementary evaporation hypothesis, the results of previous modelling studies that investigated surface-atmosphere coupling are parametrized and used to develop a theoretical description of Type (b) coupling via vapour pressure deficit (VPD) in the ABL. The interrelationship between appropriately normalized pan and area-average evaporation rates is shown to vary with temperature and wind speed but, on average, the Type (b) changes are approximately equal and opposite. Long-term Australian pan evaporation data are analyzed to demonstrate the simultaneous presence of Type (a) and (b) processes, and observations from three field sites in southwestern USA show support for the theory describing Type (b) coupling via VPD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1230-1247
Number of pages18
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number642
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Climate change
  • Complementary evaporation
  • Evaporation paradox
  • Global dimming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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