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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 07 Jun 2018

Research article | 07 Jun 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).

A theoretical approach to assess soil moisture–climate coupling across CMIP5 and GLACE-CMIP5 experiments

Clemens Schwingshackl, Martin Hirschi, and Sonia I. Seneviratne Clemens Schwingshackl et al.
  • Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zürich, Universitätsstrasse 16, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland

Abstract. Terrestrial climate is influenced by various land–atmosphere interactions that involve numerous land surface state variables. In several regions on Earth, soil moisture plays an important role for climate through its control on the partitioning of net radiation into sensible and latent heat fluxes and, consequently, its impact on temperature and precipitation. The Global Land-Atmosphere Climate Experiment–Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (GLACE-CMIP5) aims to quantify the impact of soil moisture on these important climate variables and to trace the individual coupling mechanisms. GLACE-CMIP5 provides experiments with different soil moisture prescriptions that can be used to isolate the effect of soil moisture on climate. Using a theoretical approach that relies on the distinct relation of soil moisture with evaporative fraction (the ratio of latent heat flux over net radiation) and daily maximum near-surface air temperature in different soil moisture regimes, the climate impact of the soil moisture prescriptions in the GLACE-CMIP5 experiments can be emulated and quantified. The theoretical estimation of the soil moisture effect on evaporative fraction agrees very well with estimations obtained directly from the GLACE-CMIP5 experiments (pattern correlation of 0.85). Moreover, the soil moisture effect on daily maximum temperature is well captured in those regions where soil moisture exerts a strong control on latent heat fluxes. The theoretical approach is further applied to quantify the soil moisture contribution to the projected change of the temperature on the hottest day of the year, confirming recent estimations by other studies. Finally, GLACE-style soil moisture prescriptions are emulated in an extended set of CMIP5 models. The results indicate consistency between the soil moisture–climate coupling strength estimated with GLACE-CMIP5 and CMIP5 models. Although the theoretical approach is designed to capture only the local soil moisture–climate coupling strength, it can also help to distinguish non-local from local soil moisture–atmosphere feedbacks where sensitivity experiments (such as GLACE-CMIP5) are available. Overall, the presented theoretical approach constitutes a simple and powerful tool to quantify local soil moisture–climate coupling in both GLACE-CMIP5 and CMIP5 models that can be applied in the absence of dedicated sensitivity experiments.

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Clemens Schwingshackl et al.
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Clemens Schwingshackl et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Changing amounts of water in the soil can have a strong impact on atmospheric temperatures. We present a theoretical approach that can be used to quantify the effect that soil moisture has on temperature and validate it using climate models simulations in which soil moisture is prescribed. The theoretical approach allows to study the soil moisture effect on temperature also in standard climate models, even if they do not provide specific soil moisture simulations.
Changing amounts of water in the soil can have a strong impact on atmospheric temperatures. We...