Irrigation and Drainage Systems

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 151–178 | Cite as

Remote sensing and in situ-based estimates of evapotranspiration for subirrigated meadow, dry valley, and upland dune ecosystems in the semi-arid sand hills of Nebraska, USA

  • Nathan C. HealeyEmail author
  • Ayse Irmak
  • Timothy J. Arkebauer
  • David P. Billesbach
  • John D. Lenters
  • Kenneth G. Hubbard
  • Richard G. Allen
  • Jeppe Kjaersgaard


Water consumed through evapotranspiration (ET) impacts local and regional hydrologic regimes on various spatial and temporal scales. Estimating ET in the Great Plains is a prerequisite for effective regional water resource management of the Ogallala (High Plains) Aquifer, which supplies vital water resources in the form of irrigation for extensive agricultural production. The Sand Hills region of Nebraska is one of the largest grass-stabilized eolian (windblown) sand dune formations in the world, with an area of roughly 50,000–60,000 km2 that supports a system of five major land cover types: (1) lakes, (2) wetlands (with lakes, ~5%), (3) subirrigated meadows (water table is within ~1 m of surface; ~10%), (4) dry valleys (water table is 1–10 m below surface; ~20%), and (5) upland dunes (water table is more than 10 m below surface; ~65%). Fully understanding the hydrologic regime of these different ecosystems is a fundamental challenge in regional water resource assessment. The surface energy and water balances were analyzed using Bowen Ratio Energy Balance Systems (BREBS) at three locations: (1) a meadow, (2) a valley, and (3) an upland dune. Measurement of the energy budget by BREBS, in concert with Landsat remote sensing image processing for 2004 reveals strong spatial gradients between sites in latent heat flux that are associated with undulating topographic relief. We find that daily estimates of ET from BREBS measurements and remote sensing agree well, with an uncertainty within 1 mm, which is encouraging when applying remote sensing results across such a broad spatial scale and undulating topography.


Evapotranspiration Remote sensing Bowen ratio Nebraska Energy Ecohydrology 



Gudmundsen sand hills research laboratory


Automated weather data network


Bowen ration energy balance system


Bowen ration energy balance system at the subirrigated meadow ecosystem


Bowen ration energy balance system at the dry valley ecosystem


Bowen ration energy balance system at the upland dune ecosystem


Net radiation (Wm−2)


Sensible heat flux (Wm−2)


Latent heat flux (Wm−2)


Soil heat flux (Wm−2)


Bowen ratio (unitless)


Growing degree days (°C)


Actual evapotranspiration (mm day−1)


Reference evapotranspiration for alfalfa (mm)


Reference evapotranspiration for grass (mm)


Evaporative fraction or fraction of reference evapotranspiration


Actual evapotranspiration for the entire 24-hour period (mm day−1)


Hourly instantaneous ET (mm hr−1)


Leaf area index


Normalized difference vegetation index



The authors of this study would like to thank all the Gudmundsen Sand Hills Research Laboratory for access to the study site and data acquisition. We thank Andy Applegarth at the GSRL for input on harvest timing of the subirrigated meadow. The Hydrologic Information Systems (HIS) team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (including Ian Ratcliffe, Dr. Sami Akasheh, Parikshit Ranade, and Baburao Kamble) was integral in image processing expertise and calibration dataset management. We also thank the University of Idaho for the ability to apply the METRIC™ model in this study and review support of applications that was partially supported by the Idaho NSF EPSCoR program. Lastly, we thank Dr. Tala Awada and Jessica Milby at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for their vegetative surveys.


Mention of any trademark, vendor, commercial product, process, or service by trade name, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement. Any discussion of instrumentation is intended for informational purposes about this study only.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan C. Healey
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ayse Irmak
    • 2
  • Timothy J. Arkebauer
    • 3
  • David P. Billesbach
    • 4
  • John D. Lenters
    • 5
  • Kenneth G. Hubbard
    • 6
  • Richard G. Allen
    • 7
  • Jeppe Kjaersgaard
    • 8
  1. 1.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  2. 2.School of Natural Resources and Civil EngineeringUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  3. 3.Department of Agronomy and HorticultureUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological Systems EngineeringUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  5. 5.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  6. 6.School of Natural Resources and High Plains Regional Climate Center (HPRCC)University of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  7. 7.College of Agricultural and Life SciencesUniversity of IdahoKimberlyUSA
  8. 8.Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering - Water Resources InstituteSouth Dakota State UniversityBrookingsUSA

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