US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of the American Water Resources Association (2013) 49(3): 577-591. DOI: 10.1111/jawr.12057


The increasing availability of multi-scale remotely sensed data and global weather datasets is allowing the estimation of evapotranspiration (ET) at multiple scales. We present a simple but robust method that uses remotely sensed thermal data and model-assimilated weather fields to produce ET for the contiguous United States (CONUS) at monthly and seasonal time scales. The method is based on the Simplified Surface Energy Balance (SSEB) model, which is now parameterized for operational applications, renamed as SSEBop. The innovative aspect of the SSEBop is that it uses predefined boundary conditions that are unique to each pixel for the “hot” and “cold” reference conditions. The SSEBop model was used for computing ET for 12 years (2000-2011) using the MODIS and Global Data Assimilation System (GDAS) data streams. SSEBop ET results compared reasonably well with monthly eddy covariance ET data explaining 64% of the observed variability across diverse ecosystems in the CONUS during 2005. Twelve annual ET anomalies (2000-2011) depicted the spatial extent and severity of the commonly known drought years in the CONUS. More research is required to improve the representation of the predefined boundary conditions in complex terrain at small spatial scales. SSEBop model was found to be a promising approach to conduct water use studies in the CONUS, with a similar opportunity in other parts of the world. The approach can also be applied with other thermal sensors such as Landsat.