The energy balance components were measured above the ground surface of a temperate deciduous forest over an annual cycle using the eddy covariance technique. Over a year, the net radiation at the forest floor was 21.5% of that above the canopy, but this proportion was not constant, primarily because of the distinct phenological stages separated by the emergence and senescence of leaves. The dominant response to seasonal changes in net radiation was through corresponding changes in the sensible heat flux, and both net radiation and sensible heat flux peaked just before leaf emergence. Evaporation at the forest floor was typically less than 0.5 mm per day, and unlike sensible heat flux, was not closely coupled to seasonal changes in net radiation. Instead, evaporation at the forest floor responded primarily to rapid changes in litter water content. Forest floor evaporation was limited by the water-holding capacity of litter, and when the atmospheric demand was large, the litter layer dried on the time scale of several hours. After this rapid period of drying, net radiation and sensible heat flux dominated the energy budget.
When leaves were present during the growing season, the sensible and latent energy fluxes at the forest floor were less than 10% of the total canopy fluxes, and the mean Bowen ratio was similar to that above the canopy. However, during the dormant season, the controls of the energy budget at the forest floor largely determine the whole canopy fluxes. On an annual basis, the fluxes from the forest floor are roughly 15–22% of those above the canopy and the evaporation was 86 mm.