Solar and net radiation-based equations to estimate reference evapotranspiration in humid climates

S. Irmak, A. Irmak, R. G. Allen, J. W. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

247 Scopus citations


Two equations for estimating grass reference evapotranspiration (ETo) were derived using the Food and Agriculture Organization Penman-Monteith (FAO56-PM) method as an index. The first equation, solar radiation (Rs) based, estimates ETo from incoming Rs and maximum and minimum air temperature, and the second equation, net radiation (Rn) based, uses Rn and maximum and minimum air temperature. The equations were derived using 15 years (1980-1994) of daily ETo values estimated from the FAO56-PM method using the measured and carefully screened weather data from near Gainesville, Florida. The performance of the derived equations was evaluated for 6 validation years (1995-2000), including dry and wet years, for the same site and for other humid locations in the Southeast United States. Comparisons of the performance of the derived equations with the other commonly used methods indicated that they estimate ETo as good or better than those other ETo methods. The Rs- and Rn-based equations resulted in the lowest 6 year average standard error of estimate (SEE) of daily ETo (0.44 and 0.41 mm day-1, respectively). Both equations performed quite well for estimating peak month ETo and had the lowest 6 year average daily SEE for the peak month ETo (0.24 mm day-1 for both equations). Estimates for annual total ETo were very close to those obtained from the FAO56-PM method. The 6 year average ratio of ETo method to ETo FAO56-PM were 1.05 and 1.03 for the Rs- and Rn-based equations, respectively. The derived equations were further evaluated in other humid locations in the Southeast United States, including two locations in coastal regions in Florida, one location in Georgia, and another location in Alabama. The comparisons showed that both equations are likely to provide good estimates of ET0 in humid locations of the Southeast United States. When the required input variables are considered, the Priestley-Taylor (PT) method was the closest method to the second derived equation (Rn based). Therefore, it was necessary to evaluate how the PT method would perform compared to the Rn-based equation relative to the FAO56-PM method after it is calibrated locally. Although the performance of the PT method improved slightly after the calibration, its performances for estimating daily and peak month ET0 remained poorer than the Rn-based equation in all cases. Considering the limitations associated with the availability and reliability of the climatological data, especially in developing countries, the derived equations presented in this study are suggested as practical methods for estimating ET0 if the standard FAO56-PM equation cannot be used because of the above-mentioned limitations. These equations are recommended over the other commonly used simplified temperature and radiation-based methods evaluated in this study for humid climates in the Southeast United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-347
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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