US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Sanford, Ward E. and David L. Selnick, 2012. Estimation of Evapotranspiration Across the Conterminous United States Using a Regression with Climate and Land-Cover Data. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 49(1): 217-230. DOI: 10.1111 ⁄ jawr.12010


Evapotranspiration (ET) is an important quantity for water resource managers to know because it often represents the largest sink for precipitation (P) arriving at the land surface. In order to estimate actual ET across the conterminous United States (U.S.) in this study, a water-balance method was combined with a climate and land-cover regression equation. Precipitation and streamflow records were compiled for 838 watersheds for 1971-2000 across the U.S. to obtain long-term estimates of actual ET. A regression equation was developed that related the ratio ET⁄P to climate and land-cover variables within those watersheds. Precipitation and temperatures were used from the PRISM climate dataset, and land-cover data were used from the USGS National Land Cover Dataset. Results indicate that ET can be predicted relatively well at a watershed or county scale with readily available climate variables alone, and that land-cover data can also improve those predictions. Using the climate and land-cover data at an 800-m scale and then averaging to the county scale, maps were produced showing estimates of ET and ET⁄P for the entire conterminous U.S. Using the regression equation, such maps could also be made for more detailed state coverages, or for other areas of the world where climate and land-cover data are plentiful.