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How Does Soil Moisture Influence the Early Stages of the South American Monsoon?

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  • 1 Argentine Navy Weather Service/Argentine Hydrographic Service, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • | 2 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, and ESSIC, University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, Maryland
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • | 4 National Centers for Environmental Prediction, Camp Springs, Maryland
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Abstract

This article discusses the feedbacks between soil moisture and precipitation during the early stages of the South American monsoon. The system achieves maximum precipitation over the southern Amazon basin and the Brazilian highlands during the austral summer. Monsoon changes are associated with the large-scale dynamics, but during its early stages, when the surface is not sufficiently wet, soil moisture anomalies may also modulate the development of precipitation. To investigate this, sensitivity experiments to initial soil moisture conditions were performed using month-long simulations with the regional mesoscale Eta model. Examination of the control simulations shows that they reproduce all major features and magnitudes of the South American circulation and precipitation patterns, particularly those of the monsoon. The surface sensible and latent heat fluxes, as well as precipitation, have a diurnal cycle whose phase is consistent with previous observational studies. The convective inhibition is smallest at the time of the precipitation maximum, but the convective available potential energy exhibits an unrealistic morning maximum that may result from an early boundary layer mixing.

The sensitivity experiments show that precipitation is more responsive to reductions of soil moisture than to increases, suggesting that although the soil is not too wet, it is sufficiently humid to easily reach levels where soil moisture anomalies stop being effective in altering the evapotranspiration and other surface and boundary layer variables. Two mechanisms by which soil moisture has a positive feedback with precipitation are discussed. First, the reduction of initial soil moisture leads to a smaller latent heat flux and a larger sensible heat flux, and both contribute to a larger Bowen ratio. The smaller evapotranspiration and increased sensible heat flux lead to a drier and warmer boundary layer, which in turn reduces the atmospheric instability. Second, the deeper (and drier) boundary layer is related to a stronger and higher South American low-level jet (SALLJ). However, because of the lesser moisture content, the SALLJ carries less moisture to the monsoon region, as evidenced by the reduced moisture fluxes and their convergence. The two mechanisms—reduced convective instability and reduced moisture flux convergence—act concurrently to diminish the core monsoon precipitation.

Corresponding author address: Ernesto Hugo Berbery, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, and ESSIC, 3427 Computer and Space Sciences Building, University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, MD 20742-2425. Email: berbery@atmos.umd.edu

Abstract

This article discusses the feedbacks between soil moisture and precipitation during the early stages of the South American monsoon. The system achieves maximum precipitation over the southern Amazon basin and the Brazilian highlands during the austral summer. Monsoon changes are associated with the large-scale dynamics, but during its early stages, when the surface is not sufficiently wet, soil moisture anomalies may also modulate the development of precipitation. To investigate this, sensitivity experiments to initial soil moisture conditions were performed using month-long simulations with the regional mesoscale Eta model. Examination of the control simulations shows that they reproduce all major features and magnitudes of the South American circulation and precipitation patterns, particularly those of the monsoon. The surface sensible and latent heat fluxes, as well as precipitation, have a diurnal cycle whose phase is consistent with previous observational studies. The convective inhibition is smallest at the time of the precipitation maximum, but the convective available potential energy exhibits an unrealistic morning maximum that may result from an early boundary layer mixing.

The sensitivity experiments show that precipitation is more responsive to reductions of soil moisture than to increases, suggesting that although the soil is not too wet, it is sufficiently humid to easily reach levels where soil moisture anomalies stop being effective in altering the evapotranspiration and other surface and boundary layer variables. Two mechanisms by which soil moisture has a positive feedback with precipitation are discussed. First, the reduction of initial soil moisture leads to a smaller latent heat flux and a larger sensible heat flux, and both contribute to a larger Bowen ratio. The smaller evapotranspiration and increased sensible heat flux lead to a drier and warmer boundary layer, which in turn reduces the atmospheric instability. Second, the deeper (and drier) boundary layer is related to a stronger and higher South American low-level jet (SALLJ). However, because of the lesser moisture content, the SALLJ carries less moisture to the monsoon region, as evidenced by the reduced moisture fluxes and their convergence. The two mechanisms—reduced convective instability and reduced moisture flux convergence—act concurrently to diminish the core monsoon precipitation.

Corresponding author address: Ernesto Hugo Berbery, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, and ESSIC, 3427 Computer and Space Sciences Building, University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, MD 20742-2425. Email: berbery@atmos.umd.edu

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