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Yonghong Yi, John S. Kimball, Lucas A. Jones, Rolf H. Reichle, and Kyle C. McDonald

Abstract

The authors evaluated several land surface variables from the Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) product that are important for global ecological and hydrological studies, including daily maximum (T max) and minimum (T min) surface air temperatures, atmosphere vapor pressure deficit (VPD), incident solar radiation (SWrad), and surface soil moisture. The MERRA results were evaluated against in situ measurements, similar global products derived from satellite microwave [the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (EOS) (AMSR-E)] remote sensing and earlier generation atmospheric analysis [Goddard Earth Observing System version 4 (GEOS-4)] products. Relative to GEOS-4, MERRA is generally warmer (~0.5°C for T min and T max) and drier (~50 Pa for VPD) for low- and middle-latitude regions (<50°N) associated with reduced cloudiness and increased SWrad. MERRA and AMSR-E temperatures show relatively large differences (>3°C) in mountainous areas, tropical forest, and desert regions. Surface soil moisture estimates from MERRA (0–2-cm depth) and two AMSR-E products (~0–1-cm depth) are moderately correlated (R ~ 0.4) for middle-latitude regions with low to moderate vegetation biomass. The MERRA derived surface soil moisture also corresponds favorably with in situ observations (R = 0.53 ± 0.01, p < 0.001) in the midlatitudes, where its accuracy is directly proportional to the quality of MERRA precipitation. In the high latitudes, MERRA shows inconsistent soil moisture seasonal dynamics relative to in situ observations. The study’s results suggest that satellite microwave remote sensing may contribute to improved reanalysis accuracy where surface meteorological observations are sparse and in cold land regions subject to seasonal freeze–thaw transitions. The upcoming NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission is expected to improve MERRA-type reanalysis accuracy by providing accurate global mapping of freeze–thaw state and surface soil moisture with 2–3-day temporal fidelity and enhanced (≤9 km) spatial resolution.

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Michael A. Rawlins, Michael Steele, Marika M. Holland, Jennifer C. Adam, Jessica E. Cherry, Jennifer A. Francis, Pavel Ya Groisman, Larry D. Hinzman, Thomas G. Huntington, Douglas L. Kane, John S. Kimball, Ron Kwok, Richard B. Lammers, Craig M. Lee, Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Kyle C. McDonald, Erika Podest, Jonathan W. Pundsack, Bert Rudels, Mark C. Serreze, Alexander Shiklomanov, Øystein Skagseth, Tara J. Troy, Charles J. Vörösmarty, Mark Wensnahan, Eric F. Wood, Rebecca Woodgate, Daqing Yang, Ke Zhang, and Tingjun Zhang

Abstract

Hydrologic cycle intensification is an expected manifestation of a warming climate. Although positive trends in several global average quantities have been reported, no previous studies have documented broad intensification across elements of the Arctic freshwater cycle (FWC). In this study, the authors examine the character and quantitative significance of changes in annual precipitation, evapotranspiration, and river discharge across the terrestrial pan-Arctic over the past several decades from observations and a suite of coupled general circulation models (GCMs). Trends in freshwater flux and storage derived from observations across the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas are also described.

With few exceptions, precipitation, evapotranspiration, and river discharge fluxes from observations and the GCMs exhibit positive trends. Significant positive trends above the 90% confidence level, however, are not present for all of the observations. Greater confidence in the GCM trends arises through lower interannual variability relative to trend magnitude. Put another way, intrinsic variability in the observations tends to limit confidence in trend robustness. Ocean fluxes are less certain, primarily because of the lack of long-term observations. Where available, salinity and volume flux data suggest some decrease in saltwater inflow to the Barents Sea (i.e., a decrease in freshwater outflow) in recent decades. A decline in freshwater storage across the central Arctic Ocean and suggestions that large-scale circulation plays a dominant role in freshwater trends raise questions as to whether Arctic Ocean freshwater flows are intensifying. Although oceanic fluxes of freshwater are highly variable and consistent trends are difficult to verify, the other components of the Arctic FWC do show consistent positive trends over recent decades. The broad-scale increases provide evidence that the Arctic FWC is experiencing intensification. Efforts that aim to develop an adequate observation system are needed to reduce uncertainties and to detect and document ongoing changes in all system components for further evidence of Arctic FWC intensification.

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