Seasonal hydrologic buffer on continents: patterns, drivers and ecological benefits

Sylvain Kuppel, Ying Fan, Esteban G. Jobbágy

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15 Citations (Scopus)
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Continental precipitation returns to the atmosphere and the ocean with a delay that is critical in regulating seasonal water supply to ecosystems and societies. We quantify the magnitude and spatial patterns of this seasonal hydrologic buffer, its climatic and terrain drivers, and its apparent benefits to ecosystems using observed precipitation, climate reanalysis evaporation, GRACE seasonal water storage change, and MODIS vegetation index for a 1˚×1˚ global grid. We found that (1) seasonal hydrologic buffering is widespread and averages 241 mm.yr−1 on land (a quarter of continental precipitation); it supports evaporation 3-to-9 months of the year over all regions except the per-humid tropics and energy limited high latitudes, (2) the seasonal climatic water imbalance, with surplus in some months and deficit in others, drives hydrologic buffering in lower latitudes, while it is controlled by snow/ice storage in high latitudes, (3) the main terrain effect at our scale of analysis is grid-to-grid water transfer via large rivers providing lateral subsidy to lowland basins, and (4) buffering is manifested in global patterns of plant water use, as shown by high evaporation levels in water deficit conditions, particularly under tropical monsoonal climate. Our results highlight the paramount role of seasonal land water storage and redistribution in supporting ecosystem productivity, and provide a reference to understanding likely impacts of global change on the water cycle and ecosystem dynamics in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-187
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Early online date10 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

This work has been supported by the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas (CONICET) and the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica of Argentina. GRACE land products are available at, supported by the NASA MEaSUREs Program. ERAI/LAND precipitation and snowfall and ERA-Interim evaporation datasets are available from the Web Applications Server of the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), respectively at and, while potential evaporation of CRU TS3.23 can be retrieved from The SRTM data can be accessed through the Long Term Archive portal of USGS (, the MODIS data was obtained using the REVERB data portal (, and the ESA-CCI land cover data and the corresponding sub-setting/re-projecting/re-sampling tools are available on We thank two anonymous referees whose comments and suggestions significantly improved the analysis and the presentation of the material in this paper.


  • seasonal water storage
  • hydrologic buffer
  • lateral water transfer
  • delayed evaporation
  • climatic water imbalance
  • snow storage


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