U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Observational Analysis of Land-Atmosphere Coupling Provides Standards for Evaluating Climate Models
Published: January 28, 2014
Posted: August 11, 2014

Global climate model simulations of northern-hemisphere summer climate imply that soil moisture couples strongly with precipitation and other atmospheric variables in semi-arid regions such as the U.S. Southern Great Plains (SGP). The long-time dataset from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) SGP site near Lamont, Oklahoma, provided the data to evaluate these model predictions. In this study, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimated the strength of land-atmosphere coupling from correlations of soil moisture with a diverse set of atmospheric variables observed during the summers of 1997-2008 at the SGP site. Local soil moisture correlated significantly with surface evaporation, relative humidity, and temperature, as well as with the base heights of clouds in the atmospheric boundary layer. These correlations grew stronger as the soil increasingly dried out in the aftermath of precipitation events. Contrary to the climate model predictions, no significant correlation of soil moisture with subsequent precipitation events was found, indicating that the coupling between local soil conditions and precipitation initiation is too strong in the climate models. Further evaluation and development of the models’ land-surface and boundary layer parameterizations are needed to identify and address the specific reasons for these discrepancies.  The datasets of observed characteristics of SGP land-atmosphere coupling developed in this study will provide a basis for future diagnosis and improvement of the climate model parameterizations using a testbed framework developed by DOE researchers.

Reference: Phillips, T. J., and S.A. Klein. 2014. “Land-Atmosphere Coupling Manifested in Warm-Season Observations on the U.S. Southern Great Plains,” Journal of Geophysical Research—Atmospheres 119(2), 509-28. DOI:10.1002/2013/D020492. (Reference link)

Contact: Wanda Ferrell, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0043, Sally McFarlane, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0943
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Atmospheric System Research
  • Facility: DOE ARM User Facility

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)