The surface energy balance algorithm for land method was used in this study to calculate the evapotranspiration (ET) rate for the middle reaches of the Heihe River Basin, Gansu Province, China, to analyse ET distribution within the oasis and the surrounding desert and, especially, on the edge zone of the oasis. Five profile graphs were created vertical to the river. Because of the inverse humidity phenomenon, the least amount of evapotranspiration occurred on the desert close to the oasis. The average evapotranspiration rate was roughly proportioned from the edge of the oasis to inside and outside its boundary. Two meteorological ground stations located close to the oasis edge showed a notable difference in net radiation flux that led to the difference found in ET. The primary reason for the significant differences observed in net radiation may be largely the result of differences in flux reflectivity and surface temperature. Meteorological data show that water supply also played an important role. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.