The Soil Moisture–Precipitation Feedback in Simulations with Explicit and Parameterized Convection

Cathy Hohenegger Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

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Peter Brockhaus Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

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Christopher S. Bretherton Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Christoph Schär Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

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Abstract

Moist convection is a key aspect of the extratropical summer climate and strongly affects the delicate balance of processes that determines the surface climate in response to larger-scale forcings. Previous studies using parameterized convection have found that the feedback between soil moisture and precipitation is predominantly positive (more precipitation over wet soils) over Europe. Here this feedback is investigated for one full month (July 2006) over the Alpine region using two different model configurations. The first one employs regional climate simulations performed with the Consortium for Small-Scale Modeling Model in Climate Mode (CCLM) on a grid spacing of 25 km. The second one uses the same model but integrated on a cloud-resolving grid of 2.2 km, allowing an explicit treatment of convection. Each configuration comprises one control and two sensitivity experiments. The latter start from perturbed soil moisture initial conditions.

Comparison of the simulated soil moisture–precipitation feedback reveals significant differences between the two systems. The 25-km simulations sustain a strong positive feedback, while those at 2.2-km resolution are associated with a predominantly negative feedback. Thus the two systems yield not only different strengths of this key feedback but also different signs. This has important implications, with the cloud-resolving model exhibiting a shorter soil moisture memory and a smaller soil moisture–temperature feedback.

Analysis shows that the different feedback signs relate to the sensitivity of the simulated convective development to the presence of a stable layer sitting on top of the planetary boundary layer. In the 2.2-km integrations, dry initial soil moisture conditions yield more vigorous thermals (owing to stronger daytime heating), which can more easily break through the stable air barrier, thereby leading to deep convection and ultimately to a negative soil moisture–precipitation feedback loop. In the 25-km integrations, deep convection is much less sensitive to the stable layer because of the design of the employed convective parameterization. The authors also show that there are considerable differences in the simulated soil moisture–precipitation feedback between low-resolution modeling frameworks using different cloud convection schemes.

* Current affiliation: Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Corresponding author address: Cathy Hohenegger, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640. Email: hohenegg@washington.edu

Abstract

Moist convection is a key aspect of the extratropical summer climate and strongly affects the delicate balance of processes that determines the surface climate in response to larger-scale forcings. Previous studies using parameterized convection have found that the feedback between soil moisture and precipitation is predominantly positive (more precipitation over wet soils) over Europe. Here this feedback is investigated for one full month (July 2006) over the Alpine region using two different model configurations. The first one employs regional climate simulations performed with the Consortium for Small-Scale Modeling Model in Climate Mode (CCLM) on a grid spacing of 25 km. The second one uses the same model but integrated on a cloud-resolving grid of 2.2 km, allowing an explicit treatment of convection. Each configuration comprises one control and two sensitivity experiments. The latter start from perturbed soil moisture initial conditions.

Comparison of the simulated soil moisture–precipitation feedback reveals significant differences between the two systems. The 25-km simulations sustain a strong positive feedback, while those at 2.2-km resolution are associated with a predominantly negative feedback. Thus the two systems yield not only different strengths of this key feedback but also different signs. This has important implications, with the cloud-resolving model exhibiting a shorter soil moisture memory and a smaller soil moisture–temperature feedback.

Analysis shows that the different feedback signs relate to the sensitivity of the simulated convective development to the presence of a stable layer sitting on top of the planetary boundary layer. In the 2.2-km integrations, dry initial soil moisture conditions yield more vigorous thermals (owing to stronger daytime heating), which can more easily break through the stable air barrier, thereby leading to deep convection and ultimately to a negative soil moisture–precipitation feedback loop. In the 25-km integrations, deep convection is much less sensitive to the stable layer because of the design of the employed convective parameterization. The authors also show that there are considerable differences in the simulated soil moisture–precipitation feedback between low-resolution modeling frameworks using different cloud convection schemes.

* Current affiliation: Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Corresponding author address: Cathy Hohenegger, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640. Email: hohenegg@washington.edu

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