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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 9, issue 4 | Copyright
Earth Syst. Dynam., 9, 1217-1234, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 17 Oct 2018

Research article | 17 Oct 2018

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 via its control on the partitioning of net radiation into sensible and latent heat fluxes; consequently, soil moisture also impacts on temperature and precipitation. The Global Land–Atmosphere Coupling 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 framework that relies on the distinct relation of soil moisture with evaporative fraction (the ratio of latent heat flux over net radiation) in different soil moisture regimes, the climate impact of the soil moisture prescriptions in the GLACE-CMIP5 experiments can be emulated and quantified. The framework-based estimation of the soil moisture effect on the 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 the daily maximum temperature is well captured in 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 the GLACE-CMIP5 and the CMIP5 models. Although the theoretical approach is only designed to capture 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 theoretical framework-based approach presented here constitutes a simple and powerful tool to quantify local soil moisture–climate coupling in both the GLACE-CMIP5 and CMIP5 models that can be applied in the absence of dedicated sensitivity experiments.

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 model simulations in which soil moisture is prescribed. This theoretical approach also allows us to study the soil moisture effect on temperature in standard climate models, even if they do not provide dedicated soil moisture simulations.
Changing amounts of water in the soil can have a strong impact on atmospheric temperatures. We...