Characterisation of evapotranspiration in the Orange River Basin of South Africa-Lesotho with climate and MODIS data

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Mahasa, Pululu S.
Xulu, Sifiso
Mbatha, Nkanyiso
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Evapotranspiration (ET) is crucial to the management of water supplies and the functioning of numerous terrestrial ecosystems. To understand and propose planning strategies for water-resource and crop management, it is critical to examine the geo-temporal patterns of ET in drought-prone areas such as the Upper Orange River Basin (UORB) in South Africa. While information on ET changes is computed from directly observed parameters, capturing it through remote sensing is inexpensive, consistent, and feasible at different space–time scales. Here, we employed the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)-derived spectral indices within Google Earth Engine (GEE) to analyze and characterize patterns of ET over the UORB from 2003 to 2021, in association with various climatic parameters. Our results show spatially consistent ET patterns with the Vegetation Condition Index (VCI), with lower values in the west, increasing toward the eastern section of the basin, over the Lesotho highlands. We noted that the UORB faced significant variability in ET and VCI during pronounced drought episodes. The random forests (RF) model identified precipitation, temperature, Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI)-6, Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), and VCI as variables of high importance for ET variability, while the wavelet analysis confirmed the coherence connectivity between these variables with periodicities ranging from eight to 32 months, suggesting a strong causal influence on ET, except for PDSI, that showed an erratic relationship. Based on the sequential Mann–Kendall test, we concluded that evapotranspiration has exhibited a statistically downward trend since 2011, which was particularly pronounced during the dry periods in 2015–2016, 2019, and 2021. Our study also confirmed the high capacity of the GEE and MODIS-derived indices in mapping consistent geo-temporal ET patterns.
Evapotranspiration, VCI, MODIS, Random forests, Wavelet transform, Upper Orange River Basin, SSEBop, Google Earth Engine, South Africa, Lesotho
Mahasa, P. S., Xulu, S., & Mbatha, N. (2023). Characterisation of evapotranspiration in the Orange River Basin of South Africa-Lesotho with climate and MODIS data. Water, 15, 1501.