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Jason A. Otkin, Martha C. Anderson, Christopher Hain, and Mark Svoboda

Abstract

In this study, the ability of a new drought metric based on thermal infrared remote sensing imagery to provide early warning of an elevated risk for drought intensification is assessed. This new metric, called the rapid change index (RCI), is designed to highlight areas undergoing rapid changes in moisture stress as inferred from weekly changes in the evaporative stress index (ESI) generated using the Atmosphere–Land Exchange Inverse (ALEXI) surface energy balance model. Two case study analyses across the central United States revealed that the initial appearance of negative RCI values indicative of rapid increases in moisture stress preceded the introduction of severe-to-exceptional drought in the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) by more than 4 weeks. Using data from 2000 to 2012, the probability of USDM intensification of at least one, two, or three categories over different time periods was computed as a function of the RCI magnitude. Compared to baseline probabilities, the RCI-derived probabilities often indicate a much higher risk for drought development that increases greatly as the RCI becomes more negative. When the RCI is strongly negative, many areas are characterized by intensification probabilities that are several times higher than the baseline climatology. The highest probabilities encompass much of the central and eastern United States, with the greatest increase over climatology within regions most susceptible to rapid drought development. These results show that the RCI provides useful drought early warning capabilities that could be used to alert stakeholders of an increased risk for drought development over subseasonal time scales.

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Christopher R. Hain, John R. Mecikalski, and Martha C. Anderson

Abstract

A retrieval of available water fraction ( f AW) is proposed using surface flux estimates from satellite-based thermal infrared (TIR) imagery and the Atmosphere–Land Exchange Inversion (ALEXI) model. Available water serves as a proxy for soil moisture conditions, where f AW can be converted to volumetric soil moisture through two soil texture dependents parameters—field capacity and permanent wilting point. The ability of ALEXI to provide valuable information about the partitioning of the surface energy budget, which can be largely dictated by soil moisture conditions, accommodates the retrieval of an average f AW over the surface to the rooting depth of the active vegetation. For this method, the fraction of actual to potential evapotranspiration ( f PET) is computed from an ALEXI estimate of latent heat flux and potential evapotranspiration (PET). The ALEXI-estimated f PET can be related to f AW in the soil profile. Four unique f PET to f AW relationships are proposed and validated against Oklahoma Mesonet soil moisture observations within a series of composite periods during the warm seasons of 2002–04. Using the validation results, the most representative of the four relationships is chosen and shown to produce reasonable (mean absolute errors values less than 20%) f AW estimates when compared to Oklahoma Mesonet observations. Quantitative comparisons between ALEXI and modeled f AW estimates from the Eta Data Assimilation System (EDAS) are also performed to assess the possible advantages of using ALEXI soil moisture estimates within numerical weather predication (NWP) simulations. This TIR retrieval technique is advantageous over microwave techniques because of the ability to indirectly sense f AW—and hence soil moisture conditions—extending into the root-zone layer. Retrievals are also possible over dense vegetation cover and are available on spatial resolutions on the order of the native TIR imagery. A notable disadvantage is the inability to retrieve f AW conditions through cloud cover.

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Jason A. Otkin, Martha C. Anderson, Christopher Hain, and Mark Svoboda

Abstract

In this study, the potential utility of using rapid temporal changes in drought indices to provide early warning of an elevated risk for drought development over subseasonal time scales is assessed. Standardized change anomalies were computed each week during the 2000–13 growing seasons for drought indices depicting anomalies in evapotranspiration, precipitation, and soil moisture. A rapid change index (RCI) that encapsulates the accumulated magnitude of rapid changes in the weekly anomalies was computed each week for each drought index, and then a simple statistical method was used to convert the RCI values into drought intensification probabilities depicting the likelihood that drought severity as analyzed by the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) would worsen in subsequent weeks. Local and regional case study analyses revealed that elevated drought intensification probabilities often occur several weeks prior to changes in the USDM and in topsoil moisture and crop condition datasets compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Statistical analyses showed that the RCI-derived probabilities are most reliable and skillful over the central and eastern United States in regions most susceptible to rapid drought development. Taken together, these results suggest that tools used to identify areas experiencing rapid changes in drought indices may be useful components of future drought early warning systems.

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Keyhan Gavahi, Peyman Abbaszadeh, Hamid Moradkhani, Xiwu Zhan, and Christopher Hain

Abstract

Soil moisture (SM) and evapotranspiration (ET) are key variables of the terrestrial water cycle with a strong relationship. This study examines remotely sensed soil moisture and evapotranspiration data assimilation (DA) with the aim of improving drought monitoring. Although numerous efforts have gone into assimilating satellite soil moisture observations into land surface models to improve their predictive skills, little attention has been given to the combined use of soil moisture and evapotranspiration to better characterize hydrologic fluxes. In this study, we assimilate two remotely sensed datasets, namely, Soil Moisture Operational Product System (SMOPS) and MODIS evapotranspiration (MODIS16 ET), at 1-km spatial resolution, into the VIC land surface model by means of an evolutionary particle filter method. To achieve this, a fully parallelized framework based on model and domain decomposition using a parallel divide-and-conquer algorithm was implemented. The findings show improvement in soil moisture predictions by multivariate assimilation of both ET and SM as compared to univariate scenarios. In addition, monthly and weekly drought maps are produced using the updated root-zone soil moisture percentiles over the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee–Flint basin in the southeastern United States. The model-based estimates are then compared against the corresponding U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) archive maps. The results are consistent with the USDM maps during the winter and spring season considering the drought extents; however, the drought severity was found to be slightly higher according to DA method. Comparing different assimilation scenarios showed that ET assimilation results in wetter conditions comparing to open-loop and univariate SM DA. The multivariate DA then combines the effects of the two variables and provides an in-between condition.

Open access
Elizabeth Carter, Christopher Hain, Martha Anderson, and Scott Steinschneider

Abstract

Accurate gridded estimates of evapotranspiration (ET) are essential to the analysis of terrestrial water budgets. In this study, ET estimates from three gridded energy balance–based products (ETEB) with independent model formations and data forcings are evaluated for their ability to capture long-term climatology and interannual variability in ET derived from a terrestrial water budget (ETWB) for 671 gauged basins across the contiguous United States. All three ETEB products have low spatial bias and accurately capture interannual variability of ETWB in the central United States, where ETEB and ancillary estimates of change in total surface water storage (ΔTWS) from the GRACE satellite project appear to close terrestrial water budgets. In humid regions, ETEB products exhibit higher long-term bias, and the covariability of ETEB and ETWB decreases significantly. Several factors related to either failure of ETWB, such as errors in ΔTWS and precipitation, or failure of ETEB, such as treatment of snowfall and horizontal heat advection, explain some of these discrepancies. These results mirror and build on conclusions from other studies: on interannual time scales, ΔTWS and error in precipitation estimates are nonnegligible uncertainties in ET estimates based on a terrestrial water budget, and this confounds their comparison to energy balance ET models. However, there is also evidence that in at least some regions, climate and landscape features may also influence the accuracy and long-term bias of ET estimates from energy balance models, and these potential errors should be considered when using these gridded products in hydrologic applications.

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Yafang Zhong, Jason A. Otkin, Martha C. Anderson, and Christopher Hain

Abstract

Despite the key importance of soil moisture–evapotranspiration (ET) coupling in the climate system, limited availability of soil moisture and ET observations poses a major impediment for investigation of this coupling regarding spatiotemporal characteristics and potential modifications under climate change. To better understand and quantify soil moisture–ET coupling and relevant processes, this study takes advantage of in situ soil moisture observations from the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) for the time period of 2010–17 and a satellite-derived version of the evapotranspiration stress index (ESI), which represents anomalies in a normalized ratio of actual to reference ET. The analyses reveal strong seasonality and regional characteristics of the ESI–land surface interactions across the United States, with the strongest control of soil moisture on the ESI found in the southern Great Plains during spring, and in the north-central United States, the northern Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest during summer. In drier climate regions such as the northern Great Plains and north-central United States, soil moisture control on the ESI is confined to surface soil layers, with subsurface soil moisture passively responding to changes in the ESI. The soil moisture–ESI interaction is more uniform between surface and subsurface soils in wetter regions with higher vegetation cover. These results provide a benchmark for simulation of soil moisture–ET coupling and are useful for projection of associated climate processes in the future.

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Jifu Yin, Xiwu Zhan, Youfei Zheng, Jicheng Liu, Li Fang, and Christopher R. Hain

Abstract

Many studies that have assimilated remotely sensed soil moisture into land surface models have generally focused on retrievals from a single satellite sensor. However, few studies have evaluated the merits of assimilating ensemble products that are merged soil moisture retrievals from several different sensors. In this study, the assimilation of the Soil Moisture Operational Products System (SMOPS) blended soil moisture (SBSM) product, which is a combination of soil moisture products from WindSat, Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT), and Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite sensors is examined. Using the ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF), a synthetic experiment is performed on the global domain at 25-km resolution to assess the impact of assimilating the SBSM product. The benefit of assimilating SBSM is assessed by comparing it with in situ observations from U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) and the Surface Radiation Budget Network (SURFRAD). Time-averaged surface-layer soil moisture fields from SBSM have a higher spatial coverage and generally agree with model simulations in the global patterns of wet and dry regions. The impacts of assimilating SMOPS blended data on model soil moisture and soil temperature are evident in both sparsely and densely vegetated areas. Temporal correlations between in situ observations and net shortwave radiation and net longwave radiation are higher with assimilating SMOPS blended product than without the data assimilation.

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David J. Lorenz, Jason A. Otkin, Benjamin Zaitchik, Christopher Hain, and Martha C. Anderson

Abstract

Probabilistic forecasts of changes in soil moisture and an evaporative stress index (ESI) on subseasonal time scales over the contiguous United States are developed. The forecasts use the current land surface conditions and numerical weather prediction forecasts from the Subseasonal to Seasonal (S2S) Prediction project. Changes in soil moisture are quite predictable 8–14 days in advance with 50% or more of the variance explained over the majority of the contiguous United States; however, changes in ESI are significantly less predictable. A simple red noise model of predictability shows that the spatial variations in forecast skill are primarily a result of variations in the autocorrelation, or persistence, of the predicted variable, especially for the ESI. The difference in overall skill between soil moisture and ESI, on the other hand, is due to the greater soil moisture predictability by the numerical model forecasts. As the forecast lead time increases from 8–14 to 15–28 days, however, the autocorrelation dominates the soil moisture and ESI differences as well. An analysis of modeled transpiration, and bare soil and canopy water evaporation contributions to total evaporation, suggests improvements to the ESI forecasts can be achieved by estimating the relative contributions of these components to the initial ESI state. The importance of probabilistic forecasts for reproducing the correct probability of anomaly intensification is also shown.

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Christopher R. Hain, Wade T. Crow, Martha C. Anderson, and M. Tugrul Yilmaz

Abstract

In recent years, increased attention has been paid to the role of previously neglected water source (e.g., irrigation, direct groundwater extraction, and inland water bodies) and sink (e.g., tile drainage) processes on the surface energy balance. However, efforts to parameterize these processes within land surface models (LSMs) have generally been hampered by a lack of appropriate observational tools for directly observing the impact(s) of such processes on surface energy fluxes. One potential strategy for quantifying these impacts are direct comparisons between bottom-up surface energy flux predictions from a one-dimensional, free-drainage LSM with top-down energy flux estimates derived via thermal infrared remote sensing. The neglect of water source (and/or sink) processes in the bottom-up LSM can be potentially diagnosed through the presence of systematic energy flux biases relative to the top-down remote sensing retrieval. Based on this concept, the authors introduce the Atmosphere–Land Exchange Inverse (ALEXI) Source–Sink for Evapotranspiration (ASSET) index derived from comparisons between ALEXI remote sensing latent heat flux retrievals and comparable estimates obtained from the Noah LSM, version 3.2. Comparisons between ASSET index values and known spatial variations of groundwater depth, irrigation extent, inland water bodies, and tile drainage density within the contiguous United States verify the ability of ASSET to identify regions where neglected soil water source–sink processes may be impacting modeled surface energy fluxes. Consequently, ASSET appears to provide valuable information for ongoing efforts to improve the parameterization of new water source–sink processes within modern LSMs.

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Jason A. Otkin, Mark Shafer, Mark Svoboda, Brian Wardlow, Martha C. Anderson, Christopher Hain, and Jeffrey Basara
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