Diurnal to Decadal Variability in Land Surface and Air Temperature Gradient from 2002 to 2022 over the Contiguous United States

Kexing Yu aState Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, College of Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

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Kaicun Wang bInstitute of Carbon Neutrality, Sino-French Institute for Earth System Science, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China

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Abstract

The surface and air temperature gradient (T S00T air) drives the development of the convective boundary layer and the occurrence of clouds and precipitation. However, its variability is still poorly understood due to the lack of high-quality observations. This study fills in this gap by investigating the diurnal to decadal variability in T S00T air from 2002 to 2022 based on hourly observations collected at over 100 stations of the U.S. Climate Reference Network. It is found that T S00T air reaches its maximum at noon with an average of 6.85°C over the contiguous United States, which decreases to 4.28°C when the soil moisture exceeds 30%. The daily minimum of T S00T air has an average of −2.08°C, which generally occurs in the early evening but is postponed as the cloud fraction decreases. Moreover, while existing studies have used the near-surface soil temperature, such as the 5-cm soil temperature (T S05), to calculate T S05T air, we find that T S00T air and T S05T air have opposite diurnal cycles, and their amplitudes differed drastically. The daily minimum of T S00T air has a significant decreasing trend (−0.50° ± 0.007°C decade−1) from 2002 to 2022 due to T air increasing at a higher rate than T S00 during the nighttime. The occurrence frequency of near-surface stable conditions (T S00T air < 0) increases significantly, and the frequency of unstable conditions (T S00T air > 0) decreases notably throughout the year except for winter. When it is stable, the magnitude of T S00T air tends to decrease while the T S00T air tends to increase when it is unstable, which is consistent with the drying condition caused by the precipitation deficit. This study provides the first observational evidence on how T S00T air responds to warming.

Significance Statement

The impact of global warming on surface-air temperature gradients is a crucial scientific issue that needs to be addressed. These gradients determine changes in cloud and precipitation, affecting water resources. However, traditional surface temperature measurements from weather stations are of high uncertainty due to direct exposure to the insolation. Satellite retrieval of surface temperature is limited by the availability of clear sky conditions, with low accuracy for temperature gradient calculations. Despite their importance, high-accuracy data of land surface temperature are still lacking. To address this issue, the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) uses infrared radiometers to continuously monitor surface temperature with high accuracy and sampling frequency. This study reports on surface-air temperature gradients at more than 100 U.S. stations, providing insight into diurnal to decadal variability over the contiguous United States. The study also highlights the significant difference between the land surface temperature–air temperature gradient and soil temperature–air temperature gradient.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Kaicun Wang, kcwang@pku.edu.cn

Abstract

The surface and air temperature gradient (T S00T air) drives the development of the convective boundary layer and the occurrence of clouds and precipitation. However, its variability is still poorly understood due to the lack of high-quality observations. This study fills in this gap by investigating the diurnal to decadal variability in T S00T air from 2002 to 2022 based on hourly observations collected at over 100 stations of the U.S. Climate Reference Network. It is found that T S00T air reaches its maximum at noon with an average of 6.85°C over the contiguous United States, which decreases to 4.28°C when the soil moisture exceeds 30%. The daily minimum of T S00T air has an average of −2.08°C, which generally occurs in the early evening but is postponed as the cloud fraction decreases. Moreover, while existing studies have used the near-surface soil temperature, such as the 5-cm soil temperature (T S05), to calculate T S05T air, we find that T S00T air and T S05T air have opposite diurnal cycles, and their amplitudes differed drastically. The daily minimum of T S00T air has a significant decreasing trend (−0.50° ± 0.007°C decade−1) from 2002 to 2022 due to T air increasing at a higher rate than T S00 during the nighttime. The occurrence frequency of near-surface stable conditions (T S00T air < 0) increases significantly, and the frequency of unstable conditions (T S00T air > 0) decreases notably throughout the year except for winter. When it is stable, the magnitude of T S00T air tends to decrease while the T S00T air tends to increase when it is unstable, which is consistent with the drying condition caused by the precipitation deficit. This study provides the first observational evidence on how T S00T air responds to warming.

Significance Statement

The impact of global warming on surface-air temperature gradients is a crucial scientific issue that needs to be addressed. These gradients determine changes in cloud and precipitation, affecting water resources. However, traditional surface temperature measurements from weather stations are of high uncertainty due to direct exposure to the insolation. Satellite retrieval of surface temperature is limited by the availability of clear sky conditions, with low accuracy for temperature gradient calculations. Despite their importance, high-accuracy data of land surface temperature are still lacking. To address this issue, the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) uses infrared radiometers to continuously monitor surface temperature with high accuracy and sampling frequency. This study reports on surface-air temperature gradients at more than 100 U.S. stations, providing insight into diurnal to decadal variability over the contiguous United States. The study also highlights the significant difference between the land surface temperature–air temperature gradient and soil temperature–air temperature gradient.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Kaicun Wang, kcwang@pku.edu.cn

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