Estimation of terrestrial water and energy balances over heterogeneous catchments

R. P. Silberstein, M. Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Modelling experiments have been undertaken to address the effects of land surface heterogeneity on the energy and water fluxes at catchment scales. The simulation results indicate that in the presence of strong contrasts (i.e. patchiness) in the land surface characteristics (for example, soil moisture, leaf area index or vegetation type) significant inter‐patch advection can result. For example, small areas with high levels of soil moisture surrounded by drier areas have a disproportionately high latent heat flux. The sensible heat flux showed a complementary suppression. The response to changes in leaf area index, however, was found to be much more complex. At constant soil moisture levels, it was found that under some conditions the latent heat flux of patches of high leaf area index increased as its proportion of the surface increased as a result of the increase in net radiation and roughness. There was also an increase in sensible heat flux. This effect was also found on surfaces with low moisture levels and strong contrasts in surface vegetation. Although these results do depend on the initial boundary layer and terrestrial conditions, a consequence of this is that significant biases can be generated in modelling catchment output if the heterogeneity effects are not fully accounted for. The model simulations demonstrate that the fluxes from a ‘homogenized’ surface with catchment‐average land surface properties (e.g. soil moisture) can be significantly higher than that for a heterogeneous surface with explicitly modelled inter‐patch interactions. These results have particular implications for nested catchment models where the responses of individual subcatchments are as important as that of the total catchment. They are also significant in efforts towards developing lumped land surface parameterizations for use in atmospheric models such as general circulation models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)613-630
Number of pages18
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Energy balances
  • Heterogeneous catchments
  • Scaling
  • Water balances

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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