Reference and crop evapotranspiration in South Central Nebraska. II: Measurement and estimation of actual evapotranspiration for corn

A. Irmak, S. Irmak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


In planning, designing, and managing of surface and groundwater supply, it is essential to accurately quantify actual evapotranspiration (ETc) from various vegetation surfaces within the water supply areas to allow water management agencies to manipulate the land use pattern alternatives and scenarios to achieve a desired balance between water supply and demand. However, significant differences among water regulatory agencies and water users exist in terms of methods used to quantify ETc. It is essential to know the potential differences associated with using various empirical equations in quantifying ETc as compared with the measurements of this critical variable. We quantified and analyzed the differences associated with using 15 grass (ETo) and alfalfa-reference (ETr) combination, temperature and radiation-based reference ET (ETref) equations in quantifying grass-reference actual ET (ETco) and alfalfa-reference actual ET (ETcr) as compared with the Bowen ratio energy balance system (BREBS)-measured ETc (ETc-BREBS) for field corn (Zea mays L.). We analyzed the performance of the equations for their full season, irrigation season, peak ET month, and seasonal cumulative ETc estimates on a daily time step for 2005 and 2006. The step-wise Kc values instead of smoothed curves were used in the ETc calculations. The seasonal ETc-BREBS was measured as 572 and 561 mm in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The root-means-quare difference (RMSD) was higher for the full season than the irrigation season and peak ET month estimates for all equations. The standardized ASCE Penman-Monteith (PM) ETco had a RMSD of 1.37 mm d-1 for the full growing season, 1.05 mm d-1 for the irrigation season, and 0.76 mm d-1 for the peak month ET. The ASCE-PM, 1963 and 1948 Penman ETc estimates were closest to the ETc-BREBS. The FAO-24 radiation and the HPRCC Penman ETc estimates also agreed well with the ETc-BREBS. Most combination equations performed best during the peak ET month except the temperature and radiation-based equations. There was an excellent correlation between the ASCE-PM ETco and ETcr with a high r2 of 0.99 and a low RMSD of 0.34 mm d-1. The difference between the ETcr and ETco was found to be larger at the high ETc range (i.e., >8mm), but overall, the ETcr and ETco values were within 3%. Significant differences were found between the cumulative ETco-METHOD and ETcr-METHOD versus ETc-BREBS. Most combination equations, including the standardized ASCE-PM ETco and ETcr underestimated ETc-BREBS during the early periods of the growing season where the soil evaporation was the dominant energy flux of the energy balance and in the late season near and after physiological maturity when the transpiration rates were less than the midseason. The underestimations early in the season can be attributed to the lack of ability of the physical structure of the ETref × crop coefficient approach to "fully" account for the soil surface conditions when complete canopy cover is not present. The results of this study can be used as a reference tool by the water resources regulatory agencies and water users and can provide practical information on which method to select based on the data availability for reliable estimates of daily ETc for corn.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)700-715
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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