Subgrid variability in rainfall distribution has been widely recognized as an important factor to include in the representation of land surface hydrology within climate models. In this paper, using West Africa as a case study, the impact of the subgrid variability in rainfall interception on the modeling of the biosphere–atmosphere system is investigated. According to the authors’ results, when neglecting the rainfall spatial variability, even if the impact on the total evapotranspiration is negligible, significant errors may result in the representation of surface hydrological processes and surface energy balance. These findings are consistent with the results of previous studies. However, in this paper, this issue is further explored and it is demonstrated that the extent of the resulting errors is not limited to the land surface processes. They extend to the atmosphere via the low-level cloud feedback to impact solar radiation, boundary layer energy, atmospheric circulation, and the distribution of precipitation. The same errors also propagate into the biosphere through vegetation dynamics and can eventually lead to a significantly different biosphere–atmosphere equilibrium state. This study provides a good example for the need to have physical realism in modeling the subgrid variability and most other details of the complex biosphere–atmosphere–ocean system.
Corresponding author address: Dr. G. Wang, Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory, 48-208, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139.