Soil Moisture and the Persistence of North American Drought

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  • 1 Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • | 2 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

We describe numerical sensitivity experiments exploring the effects of soil moisture on North American summertime climate using the NCAR CCMI, a 12-layer global atmospheric general circulation model. In particular. the hypothesis that reduced soil moisture may help induce and amplify warm, dry summers over midlatitude continental interiors is examined. Equilibrium climate statistics are computed for the perpetual July model response to imposed soil moisture anomalies over North America between 36° and 49°N. In addition, the persistence of imposed soil moisture anomalies is examined through use of the seasonal cycle mode of operation with use of various initial atmospheric states both equilibrated and nonequilibrated to the initial soil moisture anomaly.

The climate statistics generated by thew model simulations resemble in a general way those of the summer of 1988, when extensive heat and drought occurred over much of North America. A reduction in soil moisture in the model leads to an increase in surface temperature, lower surface pressure, increased ridging aloft, and a northward shift of the jet stream. Low-level moisture advection from the Gulf of Mexico is important in determining where persistent soil moisture deficits can be maintained. In seasonal cycle simulations, it lock longer for an initially unequilibrated atmosphere to respond to the imposed soil moisture anomaly, via moisture transport from the Gulf of Mexico, than when initially the atmosphere was in equilibrium with the imposed anomaly., i.e., the initial state was obtained from the appropriate perpetual July simulation. The results demonstrate the important role of soil moisture in prolonging and/or amplifying North American summertime drought.

Abstract

We describe numerical sensitivity experiments exploring the effects of soil moisture on North American summertime climate using the NCAR CCMI, a 12-layer global atmospheric general circulation model. In particular. the hypothesis that reduced soil moisture may help induce and amplify warm, dry summers over midlatitude continental interiors is examined. Equilibrium climate statistics are computed for the perpetual July model response to imposed soil moisture anomalies over North America between 36° and 49°N. In addition, the persistence of imposed soil moisture anomalies is examined through use of the seasonal cycle mode of operation with use of various initial atmospheric states both equilibrated and nonequilibrated to the initial soil moisture anomaly.

The climate statistics generated by thew model simulations resemble in a general way those of the summer of 1988, when extensive heat and drought occurred over much of North America. A reduction in soil moisture in the model leads to an increase in surface temperature, lower surface pressure, increased ridging aloft, and a northward shift of the jet stream. Low-level moisture advection from the Gulf of Mexico is important in determining where persistent soil moisture deficits can be maintained. In seasonal cycle simulations, it lock longer for an initially unequilibrated atmosphere to respond to the imposed soil moisture anomaly, via moisture transport from the Gulf of Mexico, than when initially the atmosphere was in equilibrium with the imposed anomaly., i.e., the initial state was obtained from the appropriate perpetual July simulation. The results demonstrate the important role of soil moisture in prolonging and/or amplifying North American summertime drought.

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