Weerasinghe, I; Bastiaanssen, W; Mul, M; Jia, L; van Griensven, A (2020). Can we trust remote sensing evapotranspiration products over Africa?. HYDROLOGY AND EARTH SYSTEM SCIENCES, 24(3), 1565-1586.

Evapotranspiration (ET) is one of the most important components in the water cycle. However, there are relatively few direct measurements of ET available (e.g. using flux towers). Nevertheless, various disciplines, ranging from hydrology to agricultural and climate sciences, require information on the spatial and temporal distribution of ET at regional and global scales. Due to the limited data availability, attention has turned toward satellite-based products to fill observational gaps. Various data products, including remote sensing (RS) products, have been developed and provide a large range of ET estimations. Across Africa, only a limited number of flux towers are available; hence, they are insufficient for the systematic evaluation of the available ET products. Thus, in this study, we conduct a methodological evaluation of nine existing RS-derived ET products as well as other available ET products in order to evaluate their reliability at the basin scale. A general water balance (WB) approach is used, where ET is equal to precipitation minus discharge for long-term averages. Firstly, ET products are compared with WB-inferred ET (ETWB) for basins that do not show long-term trends. The ET products and the calculated ETWB are then evaluated against the Budyko equation, which is used as a reference condition. The spatial characteristics of the ET products are finally assessed via the analysis of selected land cover elements across Africa: forests, irrigated areas and water bodies. Additionally, a cluster analysis is conducted to identify similarities between individual ET products. The results show that CMRSET, SSEBop and WaPOR rank highest in terms of the estimation of the long-term average mean ET across basins, with low biases and good spatial variability across Africa. GLEAM consistently ranks lowest in most evaluation criteria, although it has the longest available time period. Each product shows specific advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the study in question, at least one product should be suitable for a particular requirement. The reader should bear in mind that many products suffer from a large bias. Based on the evaluation criteria in this study, the three highest ranked products, CMRSET, SSEBop and WaPOR, would suit many users' needs due to the low biases and good spatial variability across Africa.