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Evaluating Soil Moisture Feedback on Convective Triggering: Roles of Convective and Land-Model Parameterizations

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©2018. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Feedbacks between soil moisture and convective precipitation are not well represented in current Earth system models, and can affect projections of drought and heavy-precipitation extremes. To explore the atmospheric and land-surface influences on the initiation (triggering) of daytime deep convection, single-column model experiments were performed using the NCAR Community Earth System Model (CESM1.2), over the U.S. Southern Great Plains. The results indicate that the positive and negative feedback mechanisms found in earlier studies (using simplified boundary-layer models) are robust to large-scale forcing and interactions between boundary-layer turbulence, cloud dynamics, and radiation. However, systematic responses of convective triggering to soil moisture emerged only after switching from a convective available potential energy-based to a convective inhibition energy-based convective parameterization. This suggests that the choice of convective mass-flux closure largely determines the sensitivity of parameterized convective clouds to land-surface state. Errors in land-model parameterizations of evapotranspiration also affect the probability of deep convection, with vegetation (transpiration) playing an important role in linking soil moisture to surface energy partitioning and clouds. Parameterizations that permit the triggering feedback mechanism better predict the statistics of daytime shallow and deep convection, with respect to observations from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement site in the Southern Great Plains. The results illustrate how errors in the representation of evapotranspiration in land-surface models can propagate through the chain of coupled land-atmosphere processes to affect convective clouds.

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