Modifications of human land use and climate change are known to be a threat for the health and proper functioning of tropical wetlands. They interfere with the seasonal flood pulse, which is seen as the most important driver for biodiversity and directly controls evaporation. In order to investigate the impact of local and upstream changes on wetlands, a regional assessment of evaporation is crucial but challenging in such often remote and poorly gauged ecosystems. Evaporation is the major water balance component of these wetlands and links the flood pulse with the ecosystem. It can therefore be seen as a proxy for their functioning. In the last decades, information from space became an important data source to assess remote wetland areas. Here, we developed a new approach to quantify regional evaporation driven by inundation dynamics as its dominant control. We used three water and vegetation indices (mNDWI (modified Normalized Difference Water Index), NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), and EVI (Enhanced Vegetation Index)) from MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) surface reflectance products to assess regional inundation dynamics between the dry and wet seasons. Two years of continual in situ
water level measurements at different locations in our study area, the Pantanal wetland of South America, provided the reference to evaluate our method. With process-based modeling that used the inundation dynamics to determine the water available for evaporation, we were able to estimate actual evaporation (AET) on a regional scale. Relating AET to changes in discharge due to upstream flow modifications and on local precipitation over the last 13 years, we found that the Pantanal is more vulnerable to alternated inundation dynamics than to changes in local precipitation. We concluded that coupling ground- and space-based information in this remote wetland area is a valuable first step to investigate the status of the Pantanal ecosystem.
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