Information about the hydrological behaviour of a river basin prior to setting up, calibrating and validating a distributed hydrological model requires extensive datasets that are hardly available for many parts of the world due to insufficient monitoring networks. In this study, the focus was on prevailing spatio-temporal patterns of remotely sensed evapotranspiration (ET) that enabled conclusions to be drawn about the hydrological behaviour and spatial peculiarities of a river basin at rather high spatial resolution. The prevailing spatio-temporal patterns of ET were identified using a principal component analysis of a time series of 644 images of MODIS ET covering the Wami River basin (Tanzania) between the years 2000 and 2013. The time series of the loadings on the principal components were analysed for seasonality and significant long-term trends. The spatial patterns of principal component scores were tested for significant correlation with elevations and slopes, and for differences between different soil texture and land use classes. The results inferred that the temporal and spatial patterns of ET were related to those of preceding rainfalls. At the end of the dry season, high ET was maintained only in areas of shallow groundwater and in cloud forest nature reserves. A region of clear reduction of ET in the long-term was related to massive land use change. The results also confirmed that most soil texture and land use classes differed significantly. Moreover, ET was exceptionally high in natural forests and loam soil, and very low in bushland and sandy-loam soil. Clearly, this approach has shown great potential of publicly available remote sensing data in providing a sound basis for water resources management as well as for distributed hydrological models in data-scarce river basins at lower latitudes.
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