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Soil Moisture–Atmosphere Interactions during the 2003 European Summer Heat Wave

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  • 1 Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • | 2 Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom
  • | 3 Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
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Abstract

The role of land surface–related processes and feedbacks during the record-breaking 2003 European summer heat wave is explored with a regional climate model. All simulations are driven by lateral boundary conditions and sea surface temperatures from the ECMWF operational analysis and 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-40), thereby prescribing the large-scale circulation. In particular, the contribution of soil moisture anomalies and their interactions with the atmosphere through latent and sensible heat fluxes is investigated. Sensitivity experiments are performed by perturbing spring soil moisture in order to determine its influence on the formation of the heat wave. A multiyear regional climate simulation for 1970–2000 using a fixed model setup is used as the reference period.

A large precipitation deficit together with early vegetation green-up and strong positive radiative anomalies in the months preceding the extreme summer event contributed to an early and rapid loss of soil moisture, which exceeded the multiyear average by far. The exceptionally high temperature anomalies, most pronounced in June and August 2003, were initiated by persistent anticyclonic circulation anomalies that enabled a dominance of the local heat balance. In this experiment the hottest phase in early August is realistically simulated despite the absence of an anomaly in total surface net radiation. This indicates an important role of the partitioning of net radiation in latent and sensible heat fluxes, which is to a large extent controlled by soil moisture. The lack of soil moisture strongly reduced latent cooling and thereby amplified the surface temperature anomalies.

The evaluation of the experiments with perturbed spring soil moisture shows that this quantity is an important parameter for the evolution of European heat waves. Simulations indicate that without soil moisture anomalies the summer heat anomalies could have been reduced by around 40% in some regions. Moreover, drought conditions are revealed to influence the tropospheric circulation by producing a surface heat low and enhanced ridging in the midtroposphere. This suggests a positive feedback mechanism between soil moisture, continental-scale circulation, and temperature.

Corresponding author address: E. M. Fischer, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Universitätsstrasse 16, Zurich 8092, Switzerland. Email: erich.fischer@env.ethz.ch

Abstract

The role of land surface–related processes and feedbacks during the record-breaking 2003 European summer heat wave is explored with a regional climate model. All simulations are driven by lateral boundary conditions and sea surface temperatures from the ECMWF operational analysis and 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-40), thereby prescribing the large-scale circulation. In particular, the contribution of soil moisture anomalies and their interactions with the atmosphere through latent and sensible heat fluxes is investigated. Sensitivity experiments are performed by perturbing spring soil moisture in order to determine its influence on the formation of the heat wave. A multiyear regional climate simulation for 1970–2000 using a fixed model setup is used as the reference period.

A large precipitation deficit together with early vegetation green-up and strong positive radiative anomalies in the months preceding the extreme summer event contributed to an early and rapid loss of soil moisture, which exceeded the multiyear average by far. The exceptionally high temperature anomalies, most pronounced in June and August 2003, were initiated by persistent anticyclonic circulation anomalies that enabled a dominance of the local heat balance. In this experiment the hottest phase in early August is realistically simulated despite the absence of an anomaly in total surface net radiation. This indicates an important role of the partitioning of net radiation in latent and sensible heat fluxes, which is to a large extent controlled by soil moisture. The lack of soil moisture strongly reduced latent cooling and thereby amplified the surface temperature anomalies.

The evaluation of the experiments with perturbed spring soil moisture shows that this quantity is an important parameter for the evolution of European heat waves. Simulations indicate that without soil moisture anomalies the summer heat anomalies could have been reduced by around 40% in some regions. Moreover, drought conditions are revealed to influence the tropospheric circulation by producing a surface heat low and enhanced ridging in the midtroposphere. This suggests a positive feedback mechanism between soil moisture, continental-scale circulation, and temperature.

Corresponding author address: E. M. Fischer, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Universitätsstrasse 16, Zurich 8092, Switzerland. Email: erich.fischer@env.ethz.ch

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