A hydrological perspective on evaporation: historical trends and future projections in Britain

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Evaporation is an important component of the hydrological cycle. Potential evaporation (PE) from a vegetated surface is the amount of water that would be lost to the atmosphere were the supply unlimited; actual evaporation (AE) is a fraction of PE dependent on soil wetness. Many formulae exist for estimating PE from meteorological data. PE is usually a required input, with rainfall, for hydrological modelling, but PE accuracy is generally considered less important than rainfall accuracy for model performance. Few studies investigate historical evaporation trends in Britain, but generally indicate increases. Most studies presenting future PE projections for Britain indicate increased annual PE, but some suggest small decreases in some months. Limited consensus on the best formulae to derive PE projections from climate model data is further complicated by possible changes in plant behaviour (transpiration and growth) under higher carbon dioxide concentrations. Appropriate PE estimation could be particularly important in regions where precipitation and PE are in close balance, but PE uncertainty could be less important than climate model uncertainty for hydrological impacts. Further research is needed into which PE formulae are likely to be most reliable when applied with climate model data, and into climate change and plant feedbacks.

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