• climate;
  • energy budget;
  • evapotranspiration;
  • hydrology;
  • land surface process

[1] This review surveys the basic theories, observational methods, satellite algorithms, and land surface models for terrestrial evapotranspiration, E (or λE, i.e., latent heat flux), including a long-term variability and trends perspective. The basic theories used to estimate E are the Monin-Obukhov similarity theory (MOST), the Bowen ratio method, and the Penman-Monteith equation. The latter two theoretical expressions combine MOST with surface energy balance. Estimates of E can differ substantially between these three approaches because of their use of different input data. Surface and satellite-based measurement systems can provide accurate estimates of diurnal, daily, and annual variability of E. But their estimation of longer time variability is largely not established. A reasonable estimate of E as a global mean can be obtained from a surface water budget method, but its regional distribution is still rather uncertain. Current land surface models provide widely different ratios of the transpiration by vegetation to total E. This source of uncertainty therefore limits the capability of models to provide the sensitivities of E to precipitation deficits and land cover change.