Seasonal variation of surface energy fluxes above a mixed species and spatially homogeneous grassland.
The increasing human population, industrialization, urbanisation and climate change challenges have resulted in an increased demand for already scarce water resources. This has left the agricultural sector with less water for production. Sustainable water management strategies would therefore require accurate determination of water-use. In agriculture, water-use can best be determined from total evaporation which is the loss of water from soil and vegetation to the atmosphere. Accurate quantification of total evaporation from vegetation would require a thorough understanding of water transport processes between vegetation and the atmosphere, especially in a water-scarce country like South Africa. Several methods for estimating total evaporation have been developed and are in use today. Some of the common methods used today are: the Bowen ratio energy balance, eddy covariance, scintillometry, flux variance and surface renewal. However, various methods have advantages and disadvantages. Considerations include the cost of equipment and level of skill required for use of some of the methods. A number of methods involve indirect or direct estimation of sensible heat flux then calculating latent energy flux and hence total evaporation as a residual of the shortened energy balance equation. The main objective of this study is to determine the effects of grassland management practices on the energy balance components as well as on the surface radiation balance. Eddy covariance and surface renewal methods were employed to investigate the effects of grassland management practices (mowing and burning) on the micrometeorology of naturally occurring grassland. A 4.5-ha grassland site (Ukulinga, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa) was divided into two halves: one area was initially mowed (cut-grass site) to a height of 0.1 m while the other was not mowed (tall-grass site). The tall-grass site was later treated by burning and hence referred to as the burnt-grass site. Two eddy covariance systems were deployed, one at each of the cut-grass and the tall-grass sites. The systems each comprised a three-dimensional sonic anemometer to measure high frequency sonic temperature, orthogonal wind speeds and directions and the eddy covariance sensible heat flux (W m-2). Latent energy flux, from which total evaporation was then determined, was calculated as a residual from the shortened energy balance equation from measurements of sensible heat flux, net irradiance and soil heat flux assuming closure is met. Other microclimatic measurements of soil water content, soil temperature, surface reflection coefficient and reflected solar irradiance were performed, the latter with a four-component net radiometer. An automatic weather station was also set up at the research site for continuous measurements of solar irradiance, air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction and rainfall. Water vapour pressure and grass reference evaporation were also determined online. Energy fluxes from the tall-grass site were measured from March to June 2008. Greater total evaporation rates (2.27 mm day-1) were observed at the beginning of the experiment (March). As winter approached most of the energy balance components showed a constant decreasing trend and the average total evaporation rates for May and June were 1.03 and 0.62 mm day-1, respectively. The tall-grass site had consistently lower soil temperatures that changed diurnally when compared to the cut-grass site. The soil water content at both sites showed no significant differences. Most of the energy balance components were similar between the two sites and changed diurnally. Although there were small differences observed between other energy balance components, for example, latent energy flux was slightly greater for the tall-grass site than for the cut-grass site. The tall-grass site had more basal cover and this may have contributed to the differences in temperature regimes observed between the two sites. However, the plants growing at the cut-grass site showed more vigour than the ones at the tall-grass site as spring approached. Burning of a mixed grassland surface caused significant changes to most of the optical properties and energy fluxes of the surface. Following burning, the soil temperature was elevated to noticeable levels due to removal of basal cover by burning. The surface reflection coefficient measured before and after the burn also presented a remarkable change. The surface reflection coefficient was significantly reduced after the burn but a progressive increase was observed as the burnt grass recovered after the spell of spring rains. The energy fluxes: net irradiance, latent energy flux and soil heat flux also increased following the burn but the latent energy flux was reduced as transpiration was effectively eliminated by the burning of all actively transpiring leaves. As a result, the main process that contributed towards latent energy flux was soil evaporation. An ideal surface renewal analysis model based on two air temperature structure functions was used to estimate sensible heat flux over natural grassland treated by mowing. Two air temperature lag times r (0.4 and 0.8 s) were used when computing the air temperature structure functions online. The surface renewal sensible heat fluxes were computed using an iteration process in Excel. The fluxes, obtained using an iterative procedure, were calibrated to determine the surface renewal weighting factor (a) and then validated against the eddy covariance method using different data sets for unstable conditions during 2008. The latent energy flux was computed as a residual from the shortened energy balance equation. The surface renewal weighting factor was determined for each of the two heights and two lag times for each measurement height (z) above the soil surface. The a values obtained during the surface renewal calibration period (day of year 223 to 242, 2008) ranged from 1.90 to 2.26 for measurement height 0.7 m and r = 0.4 and 0.8 s. For a measurement height of 1.2 m and r = 0.4 and 0.8 s, a values of 0.71 and 1.01 were obtained, respectively. Good agreement between surface renewal sensible heat flux and eddy covariance sensible heat flux was obtained at a height of 1.2 m using a = 0.71 and a lag time of 0.4 s. Total evaporation for the surface renewal method was compared against the eddy covariance method. The surface renewal method, for a height of 1.2 m and a lag time of 0.4 s, yielded 1.67 mm while the eddy covariance method yielded 1.57 mm for a typical cloudless day. For the same day for a measurement height of 1.2 m and a lag time of 0.8 s, eddy covariance and surface renewal methods yielded 1.57 and 1.10 mm, respectively. For a lag time of 0.4 s, the surface renewal method overestimated total evaporation by 0.10 mm while for a lag time of 0.8 s, the total evaporation was underestimated by 0.47 mm. As a result, the surface renewal method performed better for z = 1.2 m and a lag time of 0.4 s. The eddy covariance method gave reliable sensible heat fluxes throughout the experiment and this allowed a comparison of fluxes across all treatment areas to be achieved. The short-term analysis of the surface renewal method also gave reliable energy fluxes after calibration. Compared to the eddy covariance method, the surface renewal method is more attractive in the sense that it is easy to operate and use and it is relatively cheap. However, the surface renewal method requires calibration and validation against a standard method such as the eddy covariance method. This study showed that grassland management practices had a considerable effect on surface radiation and energy balance of the mowed and burnt treatment sites. Total evaporation was mainly controlled by the available energy flux, rainfall and grassland surface structure. High total evaporation values were observed during summer when net irradiance was at its highest and grass growth at its peak. Low total evaporation values were observed in winter (dry atmospheric conditions) when net irradiance was at its lowest and most vegetation was dormant.