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Contrasting controls on Congo Basin evaporation at the two rainfall peaks

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Evaporation is a crucial driver of Congo Basin climate, but the dynamics controlling the seasonality of basin evaporation are not well understood. This study aims to discover why evaporation on the basin-wide average is lower at the November rainfall peak than the March rainfall peak, despite similar rainfall. Using 16-year mean LandFlux-EVAL data, we find that evaporation is lower in November than March in the rainforest and the eastern savannah. The ERA5-Land reanalysis, which effectively reproduces this pattern, shows that transpiration is the main component responsible for lower evaporation in these regions. Using ERA5-Land, we find the following contrasting controls on transpiration, and therefore evaporation, at the two rainfall peaks: (a) In the northern rainforest, there is lower leaf area index (LAI) in November, driven by lower surface downward shortwave radiation (DSR), and lower vapour pressure deficit (VPD) in November, driven by lower sensible heat flux that results from lower net radiation. The combination of lower LAI and VPD explains lower transpiration, and therefore lower evaporation, in November. (b) In the southern rainforest, and in the north-eastern savannah, there is lower LAI in November, driven by lower surface DSR, and this explains lower transpiration, and therefore lower evaporation, in November. (c) In the south-eastern savannah, there is lower LAI in November, driven by lower volumetric water content (VWC), and this explains lower transpiration, and therefore lower evaporation, in November. Collectively, these contrasting controls at the two rainfall peaks explain why the basin-wide average evaporation is lower in November than March.