Scarce water resources are available in the arid and semi-arid areas of Northwest China, where significant water-related challenges will be faced in the coming decades. Quantitative evaluations of the spatio-temporal dynamics in ecosystem water use efficiency (WUE), as well as the underlying environmental controls, are crucial for predicting future climate change impacts on ecosystem carbon-water interactions and agricultural production. However, these questions remain poorly understood in this typical region. By means of continuous eddy covariance (EC) measurements and time-series MODIS data, this study revealed the distinct seasonal cycles in gross primary productivity (GPP), evapotranspiration (ET), and WUE for both grassland and cropland ecosystems, and the dominant climate factors performed jointly by temperature and precipitation. The MODIS WUE estimates from GPP and ET products can capture the broad trend in WUE variability of grassland, but with large biases for maize cropland, which was mainly ascribed to large uncertainties resulting from both GPP and ET algorithms. Given the excellent biophysical performance of the MODIS-derived enhanced vegetation index (EVI), a new greenness model (GR) was proposed to track the eight-day changes in ecosystem WUE. Seasonal variations and the scatterplots between EC-based WUE and the estimates from time-series EVI data (WUEGR
) also certified its prediction accuracy with R2
and RMSE of both grassland and cropland ecosystems over 0.90 and less than 0.30 g kg−1
, respectively. The application of the GR model to regional scales in the near future will provide accurate WUE information to support water resource management in dry regions around the world.
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