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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Modeling Soil Moisture and Surface Flux Variability with an Untuned Land Surface Scheme: A Case Study from the Southern Great Plains 1997 Hydrology Experiment


The Parameterization for Land–Atmosphere–Cloud Exchange (PLACE), a typical surface–vegetation–atmosphere transfer (SVAT) parameterization, was used in a case study of a 2500 km2 area in southwestern Oklahoma for 9–16 July 1997. The research objective was to assess PLACE’s simulation of the spatial variability and temporal evolution of soil moisture and heat fluxes without optimization for this case study. Understanding PLACE’s performance under these conditions may provide perspective on results from more complex coupled land–atmosphere simulations involving similar land surface schemes in data-poor environments. Model simulations were initialized with simple initial soil moisture and temperature profiles tied to soil type and forced by standard meteorological observations. The model equations and parameters were not adjusted or tuned to improve results.

For surface soil moisture, 5- and 10-cm soil temperature, and surface fluxes, the most accurate simulation (5% error for soil moisture and 2 K for 5- and 10-cm soil temperature) occurred during the 48 h following heavy rainfall on 11 and 15 July. The spatial pattern of simulated soil moisture was controlled more strongly by soil texture than was observed soil moisture, and the error was correlated with rainfall. The simplifications of the subsurface soil moisture, soil texture, and vegetation cover initialization schemes and the uncertainty in the rainfall data (>10%) could account for differences between modeled and observed surface fluxes that are on the order of 100 W m−2 and differences in soil moisture that are greater than 5%. It also is likely that the soil thermal conductivity scheme in PLACE damped PLACE’s response to atmospheric demand after 13 July, resulting in reduced evapotranspiration and warmer but slower-drying soils. Under dry conditions, the authors expect that SVATs such as PLACE that use a similar simple initialization also would demonstrate a strong soil texture control on soil moisture and surface fluxes and limited spatial variability.

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