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Ronald D. Leeper, Jesse E. Bell, Chanté Vines, and Michael Palecki

Abstract

Accurate and timely information on soil moisture conditions is an important component to effectively prepare for the damaging aspects of hydrological extremes. The combination of sparsely dense in situ networks and shallow observation depths of remotely sensed soil moisture conditions often force local and regional decision-makers to rely on numerical methods when assessing the current soil state. In this study, soil moisture from a commonly used, high-resolution reanalysis dataset is compared to observations from the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN). The purpose of this study is to evaluate how well the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) captured the evolution, intensity, and spatial extent of the 2012 drought using both raw volumetric values and standardized anomalies of soil moisture. Comparisons revealed that despite a dry precipitation bias of 22% nationally, NARR had predominantly wetter 5-cm volumetric soil conditions over the growing season (April–September) than observed at USCRN sites across the contiguous United States, with differences more pronounced in drier regions. These biases were partially attributed to differences between the dominant soil characteristics assigned to the modeled grid cells and localized soil characteristics at the USCRN stations. However, NARR was able to successfully capture many aspects of the 2012 drought, including the timing, intensity, and spatial extent when using standardized soil moisture anomalies. Standardizing soil moisture conditions reduced the magnitude of systematic biases between NARR and USCRN in many regions and provided a more robust basis for utilizing modeled soil conditions in assessments of hydrological extremes.

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Jesse E. Bell, Michael A. Palecki, C. Bruce Baker, William G. Collins, Jay H. Lawrimore, Ronald D. Leeper, Mark E. Hall, John Kochendorfer, Tilden P. Meyers, Tim Wilson, and Howard J. Diamond

Abstract

The U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) is a network of climate-monitoring stations maintained and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide climate-science-quality measurements of air temperature and precipitation. The stations in the network were designed to be extensible to other missions, and the National Integrated Drought Information System program determined that the USCRN could be augmented to provide observations that are more drought relevant. To increase the network’s capability of monitoring soil processes and drought, soil observations were added to USCRN instrumentation. In 2011, the USCRN team completed at each USCRN station in the conterminous United States the installation of triplicate-configuration soil moisture and soil temperature probes at five standards depths (5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 cm) as prescribed by the World Meteorological Organization; in addition, the project included the installation of a relative humidity sensor at each of the stations. Work is also under way to eventually install soil sensors at the expanding USCRN stations in Alaska. USCRN data are stewarded by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, and instrument engineering and performance studies, installation, and maintenance are performed by the NOAA Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division. This article provides a technical description of the USCRN soil observations in the context of U.S. soil-climate–measurement efforts and discusses the advantage of the triple-redundancy approach applied by the USCRN.

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