The Role of Topography in Controlling Evapotranspiration Age

Chen Yang, Reed Maxwell, Jeffrey McDonnell, Xiaofan Yang, Danielle Tijerina-Kreuzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evapotranspiration (ET) age is a key metric of water sustainability but a major unknown partly due to the extreme difficulty in modeling it. Groundwater is found to be important in ET age variations in small-scale studies, yet our understanding is insufficient because groundwater systems are nested across scales. Here, we conducted GPU-accelerated particle tracking with integrated hydrologic modeling to quantify the variations in ET age at a regional scale of ∼0.4 M km2. Simulation results reveal topography-driven flow paths shaping the spatial and temporal patterns of ET age variations. On ridges, where root zone decoupling with deep subsurface storage, ET age is generally young, with seasonal variations dominated by meteorological conditions. In the valley bottom, ET age is generally old, with significant subseasonal variations caused by the convergence of subsurface flow paths. On hillslopes with water table depths ranging from 1 to 10 m, ET age shows strong seasonal variations caused by the connections with lateral groundwater regulated by ET demand. Our modeling approach provides insights into the basic linkages between ET age and topography at large scale. Our work highlights the perspective of multiscale studies of ET age, suggesting new field experiments to test these process connections and to determine if such linkages warrant inclusion in Earth System Models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023JD039228
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 27 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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