Contribution of water-limited ecoregions to their own supply of rainfall

D. Gonzalez Miralles, R. Nieto, N.G. McDowell, W.A. Dorigo, N.E. Verhoest, Y.Y. Liu, A.J. Teuling, A.J. Dolman, S.P. Good, L. Gimeno

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The occurrence of wet and dry growing seasons in water-limited regions remains poorly understood, partly due to the complex role that these regions play in the genesis of their own rainfall. This limits the predictability of global carbon and water budgets, and hinders the regional management of natural resources. Using novel satellite observations and atmospheric trajectory modelling, we unravel the origin and immediate drivers of growing-season precipitation, and the extent to which ecoregions themselves contribute to their own supply of rainfall. Results show that persistent anomalies in growing-season precipitation - and subsequent biomass anomalies - are caused by a complex interplay of land and ocean evaporation, air circulation and local atmospheric stability changes. For regions such as the Kalahari and Australia, the volumes of moisture recycling decline in dry years, providing a positive feedback that intensifies dry conditions. However, recycling ratios increase up to 40%, pointing to the crucial role of these regions in generating their own supply of rainfall; transpiration in periods of water stress allows vegetation to partly offset the decrease in regional precipitation. Findings highlight the need to adequately represent vegetation-atmosphere feedbacks in models to predict biomass changes and to simulate the fate of water-limited regions in our warming climate.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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