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Deconstructing the Soil Moisture–Latent Heat Flux Relationship: The Range of Coupling Regimes Experienced and the Presence of Nonlinearity within the Sensitive Regime

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  • 1 aGeorge Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
  • | 2 bCenter for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
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Abstract

The control of latent heat flux (LE) by soil moisture (SM) is a key process affecting the moisture and energy budgets at the land–atmosphere interface. SM–LE coupling relationships are conventionally examined using metrics involving temporal correlation. However, such a traditional linear approach, which fits a straight line across the full SM–LE space to evaluate the dependency, leaves out certain critical information: nonlinear SM–LE relationships and the long-recognized thresholds that lead to dramatically different behavior in different ranges of soil moisture, delineating a dry regime, a transitional regime of high sensitivity, and a wet (energy-limited) regime. Using data from climate models, reanalyses, and observationally constrained datasets, global patterns of SM–LE regimes are determined by segmented regression. Mutual information analysis is applied only for days when SM is in the transitional regime between critical points defining high sensitivity of LE to SM variations. Sensitivity is further decomposed into linear and nonlinear components. Results show discrepancies in the global patterns of existing SM regimes, but general consistencies among the linear and nonlinear components of SM–LE coupling. This implies that although models simulate differing surface hydroclimates, once SM is in the transitional regime, the locations where LE closely interacts with SM are well captured and resemble the conventional distribution of “hotspots” of land–atmosphere interactions. This indicates that only the transitional SM regime determines the strength of coupling, and attention should focused on when this regime occurs. This framework can also be applied to investigate extremes and the shifting surface hydroclimatology in a warming climate.

Significance Statement

Evaporation is sensitive to soil moisture only within a specific range that is neither too dry nor too wet. This transitional regime is examined to quantify how strongly soil moisture controls local evaporation. We identify the dry, transitional, and wet regimes across the globe, and the locations where each regime is experienced; the spatial patterns among climate models and observationally based datasets often show discrepancies. When we determine dependencies between soil moisture and evaporation only within the transitional regime, we find general consistency of locations having simple linear dependencies versus more complex nonlinear relationships. We conclude that although surface hydroclimates differ between climate models and observations, the locations where soil moisture can control evaporation are well captured. These results have potential application for improved forecasting and climate change assessment.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Hsin Hsu, hhsu@gmu.edu

Abstract

The control of latent heat flux (LE) by soil moisture (SM) is a key process affecting the moisture and energy budgets at the land–atmosphere interface. SM–LE coupling relationships are conventionally examined using metrics involving temporal correlation. However, such a traditional linear approach, which fits a straight line across the full SM–LE space to evaluate the dependency, leaves out certain critical information: nonlinear SM–LE relationships and the long-recognized thresholds that lead to dramatically different behavior in different ranges of soil moisture, delineating a dry regime, a transitional regime of high sensitivity, and a wet (energy-limited) regime. Using data from climate models, reanalyses, and observationally constrained datasets, global patterns of SM–LE regimes are determined by segmented regression. Mutual information analysis is applied only for days when SM is in the transitional regime between critical points defining high sensitivity of LE to SM variations. Sensitivity is further decomposed into linear and nonlinear components. Results show discrepancies in the global patterns of existing SM regimes, but general consistencies among the linear and nonlinear components of SM–LE coupling. This implies that although models simulate differing surface hydroclimates, once SM is in the transitional regime, the locations where LE closely interacts with SM are well captured and resemble the conventional distribution of “hotspots” of land–atmosphere interactions. This indicates that only the transitional SM regime determines the strength of coupling, and attention should focused on when this regime occurs. This framework can also be applied to investigate extremes and the shifting surface hydroclimatology in a warming climate.

Significance Statement

Evaporation is sensitive to soil moisture only within a specific range that is neither too dry nor too wet. This transitional regime is examined to quantify how strongly soil moisture controls local evaporation. We identify the dry, transitional, and wet regimes across the globe, and the locations where each regime is experienced; the spatial patterns among climate models and observationally based datasets often show discrepancies. When we determine dependencies between soil moisture and evaporation only within the transitional regime, we find general consistency of locations having simple linear dependencies versus more complex nonlinear relationships. We conclude that although surface hydroclimates differ between climate models and observations, the locations where soil moisture can control evaporation are well captured. These results have potential application for improved forecasting and climate change assessment.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Hsin Hsu, hhsu@gmu.edu

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