Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Predicting Characteristics of the Water Cycle From Scaling Relationships


Over multi-decadal time scales, assuming that changes in subsurface water storage are negligible, the continental precipitative water flux, P, can be divided into two principal components, Q (run-off, including soil infiltration and groundwater recharge) and ET (evapotranspiration). Taking into account a broadly applied Budyko's phenomenology to describe the relationship of ET/P as a function of PET/P, where PET is the potential evapotranspiration, we propose a theoretical framework for predicting characteristics of the water cycle from scaling relationships. In this framework, the ecosystem net primary productivity is expressed in terms of soil formation and vegetation growth, which is mathematically optimized with respect to the water partitioning, generating directly the value ET/P. The mathematical optimization is based on the general ecological principle that dominant ecosystems tend to be those that, for any given conditions, maximize conversion of atmospheric carbon to biomass. It is shown that application of the results of mathematical optimization to water-limited ecosystems is possible by applying the optimization only to a vegetation covered portion of the surface. For energy-limited ecosystems, the optimization can be applied only to a portion of the precipitation equal to PET, assuming that the remaining P simply runs off. We use theoretical and actual values of plant root fractal dimensionalities, df, to predict ranges of ET/P as a function of PET/P for 0 ≤ PET/P ≤ 1 and compare with annual and multi-decadal means of ET/P. By comparing the developed approach with a large amount of data collected from the literature, we demonstrate its successful applications to both water- and energy-limited systems.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View