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Research article2012Peer reviewed

On the effects of seasonality on soil water balance and plant growth

Feng, Xue; Vico, Giulia; Porporato, Amilcare


The partitioning of rainfall into evapotranspiration, runoff, and deep infiltration in seasonally dry climates is influenced by strong temporal variability in rainfall and potential evapotranspiration at the intra-annual scale, which cannot be captured by conventional steady state water balance models. Guided by dimensional analysis and using simplified stochastic soil moisture models, we develop analytical expressions describing the annual partitioning of rainfall into evapotranspiration and deep percolation/runoff in seasonally dry, surface water dependent landscapes. We discuss the related changes to Budyko's curve under different seasonality scenarios, showing that an increase in seasonal rainfall and potential evapotranspiration variability as well as dry season length can lead to a decrease in the annual evapotranspiration ratio. In addition, our model shows that although increased soil water storage can compensate for the decrease in evapotranspiration due to climate seasonality, this effect is more marked in drier climates (higher annual dryness index) compared to wetter climates. Finally, the coupling of the soil moisture model to a minimalist plant growth model shows that in seasonally dry climates, a maximum in biomass is to be expected for a wet season of optimal length, for which the limitations imposed by both water availability and growth duration are at a minimum.


dimensional analysis; seasonal climates; water balance

Published in

Water Resources Research
2012, Volume: 48, number: 5, article number: W05543

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Geosciences, Multidisciplinary

    Publication identifier


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