Quantifying spatio-temporal variations of soil moisture control on surface energy balance and near-surface air temperature

Journal of Climate | Schwingshackl et al. [2017]


Soil moisture plays a crucial role for the energy partitioning at the Earth’s surface. Changing fractions of latent and sensible heat fluxes caused by soil moisture variations, can affect both near-surface air temperature and precipitation. In this study, a simple framework for the dependence of evaporative fraction (the ratio of latent heat flux over net radiation) on soil moisture is used to analyze spatial and temporal variations of land–atmosphere coupling and its effect on near-surface air temperature. Using three different data sources (two re-analysis datasets and one combination of different datasets), three key parameters for the relation between soil moisture and evaporative fraction are estimated: 1) the frequency of occurrence of different soil moisture regimes, 2) the sensitivity of evaporative fraction to soil moisture in the transitional soil moisture regime, and 3) the critical soil moisture value which separates soil moisture- and energy-limited evapotranspiration regimes. The results show that about 30-60% (depending on the dataset) of the global land area is in the transitional regime during at least half of the year. Based on the identification of transitional regimes, the effect of changes in soil moisture on near-surface air temperature is analyzed. Typical soil moisture variations (standard deviation) can impact air temperature by up to 1.1 – 1.3 K, while changing soil moisture over its full range in the transitional regime can alter air temperature by up to 6 – 7 K. The results emphasize the role of soil moisture for atmosphere and climate and constitute a useful benchmark for the evaluation of the respective relationships in Earth System Models.

Full text can be found here.



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