skip to main content

Title: The Origin of Soil Moisture Evaporation “Regimes”

Evaporation plays an extremely important role in determining summertime surface temperature variability over land. Observations show the relationship between evaporation and soil moisture generally conforms to the Budyko “two regime” framework; namely, that evaporation is limited by available soil moisture in dry climates and by radiation in wet climates. This framework has led climate models to different parameterizations of the relationship between evaporation and soil moisture in wet and dry regions. We have developed the Simple Land–Atmosphere Model (SLAM) as a tool for studying land–atmosphere interaction in general, and summertime temperature variability in particular. We use the SLAM to show that a negative feedback between evaporation and surface temperature gives rise to the two apparent evaporation “regimes” and provide analytic solutions for evaporative cooling anomalies that demonstrate the nonlinear impact of soil moisture perturbations. Stemming from the temperature dependence of vapor pressure deficit, the feedback we identify has important implications for how transitions between wet and dry land surfaces may impact temperature variability as the climate warms. We also elucidate the impacts of surface moisture and insolation perturbations on latent and sensible heat fluxes and on surface temperature variability.

 ;  ;  
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Journal of Climate
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 6939-6960
American Meteorological Society
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Climate models show that soil moisture and its subseasonal fluctuations have important impacts on the surface latent heat flux, thus regulating surface temperature variations. Using correlations between monthly anomalies in net absorbed radiative fluxes, precipitation, 2-m air temperature, and soil moisture in the ERA-Interim reanalysis and the HadCM3 climate model, we develop a linear diagnostic model to quantify the major effects of land–atmosphere interactions on summertime surface temperature variability. The spatial patterns in 2-m air temperature and soil moisture variance from the diagnostic model are consistent with those from the products from which it was derived, although the diagnostic model generally underpredicts soil moisture variance. We use the diagnostic model to quantify the impact of soil moisture, shortwave radiation, and precipitation anomalies on temperature variance in wet and dry regions. Consistent with other studies, we find that fluctuations in soil moisture amplify temperature variance in dry regions through their impact on latent heat flux, whereas in wet regions temperature variability is muted because of high mean evapotranspiration rates afforded by plentiful surface soil moisture. We demonstrate how the diagnostic model can be used to identify sources of temperature variance bias in climate models.

  2. Abstract Soil moisture heterogeneity can induce mesoscale circulations due to differential heating between dry and wet surfaces, which can, in turn, trigger precipitation. In this work, we conduct cloud-permitting simulations over a 100 km × 25 km idealized land surface, with the domain split equally between a wet region and a dry region, each with homogeneous soil moisture. In contrast to previous studies that prescribed initial atmospheric profiles, each simulation is run with fixed soil moisture for 100 days to allow the atmosphere to equilibrate to the given land surface rather than prescribing the initial atmospheric profile. It is then run for one additional day, allowing the soil moisture to freely vary. Soil moisture controls the resulting precipitation over the dry region through three different mechanisms: as the dry domain gets drier, (i) the mesoscale circulation strengthens, increasing water vapor convergence over the dry domain, (ii) surface evaporation declines over the dry domain, decreasing water vapor convergence over the dry domain, and (iii) precipitation efficiency declines due to increased reevaporation, meaning proportionally less water vapor over the dry domain becomes surface precipitation. We find that the third mechanism dominates when soil moisture is small in the dry domain: drier soilsmore »ultimately lead to less precipitation in the dry domain due to its impact on precipitation efficiency. This work highlights an important new mechanism by which soil moisture controls precipitation, through its impact on precipitation reevaporation and efficiency.« less
  3. Abstract The response of zonal-mean precipitation minus evaporation ( P − E ) to global warming is investigated using a moist energy balance model (MEBM) with a simple Hadley cell parameterization. The MEBM accurately emulates zonal-mean P − E change simulated by a suite of global climate models (GCMs) under greenhouse gas forcing. The MEBM also accounts for most of the intermodel differences in GCM P − E change and better emulates GCM P − E change when compared to the “wet-gets-wetter, dry-gets-drier” thermodynamic mechanism. The intermodel spread in P − E change is attributed to intermodel differences in radiative feedbacks, which account for 60%–70% of the intermodel variance, with smaller contributions from radiative forcing and ocean heat uptake. Isolating the intermodel spread of feedbacks to specific regions shows that tropical feedbacks are the primary source of intermodel spread in zonal-mean P − E change. The ability of the MEBM to emulate GCM P − E change is further investigated using idealized feedback patterns. A less negative and narrowly peaked feedback pattern near the equator results in more atmospheric heating, which strengthens the Hadley cell circulation in the deep tropics through an enhanced poleward heat flux. This pattern also increasesmore »gross moist stability, which weakens the subtropical Hadley cell circulation. These two processes in unison increase P − E in the deep tropics, decrease P − E in the subtropics, and narrow the intertropical convergence zone. Additionally, a feedback pattern that produces polar-amplified warming partially reduces the poleward moisture flux by weakening the meridional temperature gradient. It is shown that changes to the Hadley cell circulation and the poleward moisture flux are crucial for understanding the pattern of GCM P − E change under warming. Significance Statement Changes to the hydrological cycle over the twenty-first century are predicted to impact ecosystems and socioeconomic activities throughout the world. While it is broadly expected that dry regions will get drier and wet regions will get wetter, the magnitude and spatial structure of these changes remains uncertain. In this study, we use an idealized climate model, which assumes how energy is transported in the atmosphere, to understand the processes setting the pattern of precipitation and evaporation under global warming. We first use the idealized climate model to explain why comprehensive climate models predict different changes to precipitation and evaporation across a range of latitudes. We show this arises primarily from climate feedbacks, which act to amplify or dampen the amount of warming. Ocean heat uptake and radiative forcing play secondary roles but can account for a significant amount of the uncertainty in regions where ocean circulation influences the rate of warming. We further show that uncertainty in tropical feedbacks (mainly from clouds) affects changes to the hydrological cycle across a range of latitudes. We then show how the pattern of climate feedbacks affects how the patterns of precipitation and evaporation respond to climate change through a set of idealized experiments. These results show how the pattern of climate feedbacks impacts tropical hydrological changes by affecting the strength of the Hadley circulation and polar hydrological changes by affecting the transport of moisture to the high latitudes.« less
  4. The spring dry season occurring in an arid region of the southwestern United States, which receives both winter storm track and summer monsoon precipitation, is investigated. Bimodal precipitation and vegetation growth provide an opportunity to assess multiple climate mechanisms and their impact on hydroclimate and ecosystems. We detect multiple shifts from wet to drier conditions in the observational record and land surface model output. Focusing on the recent dry period, a shift in the late 1990s resulted in earlier and greater spring soil moisture draw down, and later and reduced spring vegetation green-up, compared to a prior wet period (1979–97). A simple soil moisture balance model shows this shift is driven by changes in winter precipitation. The recent post-1999 dry period and an earlier one from 1948 to 1966 are both related to the cool tropics phase of Pacific decadal variability, which influences winter precipitation. In agreement with other studies for the southwestern United States, we find the recent drought cannot be explained in terms of precipitation alone, but also is due to the rising influence of temperature, thus highlighting the sensitivity of this region to warming temperatures. Future changes in the spring dry season will therefore be affected bymore »how tropical decadal variability evolves, and also by emerging trends due to human-driven warming.

    « less
  5. Abstract. Plant activity in semi-arid ecosystems is largely controlled by pulses of precipitation, making them particularly vulnerable to increased aridity expected with climate change. Simple bucket-model hydrology schemes in land surface models (LSMs) have had limited ability in accurately capturing semi-arid water stores and fluxes. Recent, more complex, LSM hydrology models have not been widely evaluated against semi-arid ecosystem in situ data. We hypothesize that the failure of older LSM versions to represent evapotranspiration, ET, in arid lands is because simple bucket models do not capture realistic fluctuations in upper layer soil moisture. We therefore predict that including a discretized soil hydrology scheme based on a mechanistic description of moisture diffusion will result in an improvement in model ET when compared to data because the temporal variability of upper layer soil moisture content better corresponds to that of precipitation inputs. To test this prediction, we compared ORCHIDEE LSM simulations from (1) a simple conceptual 2-layer bucket scheme with fixed hydrological parameters; and (2) a 11-layer discretized mechanistic scheme of moisture diffusion in unsaturated soil based on Richards equations against daily and monthly soil moisture and ET observations, together with data-derived transpiration / evaporation, T / ET, ratios, from six semi-arid grass, shrub and forestmore »sites in the southwestern USA. The 11-layer scheme also has modified calculations of surface runoff, bare soil evaporation, and water limitation to be compatible with the more complex hydrology configuration. To diagnose remaining discrepancies in the 11-layer model, we tested two further configurations: (i) the addition of a term that captures bare soil evaporation resistance to dry soil; and (ii) reduced bare soil fraction. We found that the more mechanistic 11-layer model results better representation of the daily and monthly ET observations. We show that is likely because of improved simulation of soil moisture in the upper layers of soil (top 5 cm). Some discrepancies between observed and modelled soil moisture and ET may allow us to prioritize future model development. Adding a soil resistance term generally decreased simulated E and increased soil moisture content, thus increasing T and T / ET ratios and reducing the negative T / ET model-data bias. By reducing the bare soil fraction in the model, we illustrated that modelled leaf T is too low at sparsely vegetated sites. We conclude that a discretized soil hydrology scheme and associated developments improves estimates of ET by allowing the model to more closely match the pulse precipitation dynamics of these semi-arid ecosystems; however, the partitioning of T from bare soil evaporation is not solved by this modification alone.« less