Reconciling the global terrestrial water budget using satellite remote sensing

Alok K. Sahoo, Ming Pan, Tara J. Troy, Raghuveer K. Vinukollu, Justin Sheffield, Eric F. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


Recent retrievals of multiple satellite products for each component of the terrestrial water cycle provide an opportunity to estimate the water budget globally. In this study, we estimate the water budget from satellite remote sensing over ten global river basins for 2003-2006. We use several satellite and non-satellite precipitation (P) and evapo-transpiration (ET) products in this study. The satellite precipitation products are the GPCP, TRMM, CMORPH and PERSIANN. For ET, we use four products generated from three retrieval models (Penman-Monteith (PM), Priestley-Taylor (PT) and the Surface Energy Balance System (SEBS)) with data inputs from the Earth Observing System (EOS) or the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) products. GPCP precipitation and PM (ISCCP) ET have less bias and errors over most of the river basins. To estimate the total water budget from satellite data for each basin, we generate merged products for P and ET by combining the four P and four ET products using weighted values based on their errors with respect to non-satellite merged product. The water storage change component is taken from GRACE satellite data, which are used directly with a single pre-specified error value. In the absence of satellite retrievals of river discharge, we use in-situ gauge measurements. Closure of the water budget over the river basins from the combined satellite and in-situ discharge products is not achievable with errors of the order of 5-25% of mean annual precipitation. A constrained ensemble Kalman filter is used to close the water budget and provide a constrained best-estimate of the water budget. The non-closure error from each water budget component is estimated and it is found that the merged satellite precipitation product carries most of the non-closure error.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1850-1865
Number of pages16
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 15 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


  • Global terrestrial water budget
  • Remote sensing
  • Water budget closure


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