Soil moisture-evapotranspiration coupling in CMIP5 models: relationship with simulated climate and projections
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Soil moisture-evapotranspiration coupling in CMIP5 models: relationship with simulated climate and projections

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Climate
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    Soil moisture–atmosphere coupling is a key process underlying climate variability and change over land. The control of soil moisture (SM) on evapotranspiration (ET) is a necessary condition for soil moisture to feed back onto surface climate. Here we investigate how this control manifests itself across simulations from the CMIP5 ensemble, using correlation analysis focusing on the interannual (summertime) time scale. Analysis of CMIP5 historical simulations indicates significant model diversity in SM–ET coupling in terms of patterns and magnitude. We investigate the relationship of this spread with differences in background simulated climate. Mean precipitation is found to be an important driver of model spread in SM–ET coupling but does not explain all of the differences, presumably because of model differences in the treatment of land hydrology. Compared to observations, some land regions appear consistently biased dry and thus likely overly soil moisture–limited. Because of ET feedbacks on air temperature, differences in SM–ET coupling induce model uncertainties across the CMIP5 ensemble in mean surface temperature and variability. We explore the relationships between model uncertainties in SM–ET coupling and climate projections. In particular over mid-to-high-latitude continental regions of the Northern Hemisphere but also in parts of the tropics, models that are more soil moisture–limited in the present tend to warm more in future projections, because they project less increase in ET and (in midlatitudes) greater increase in incoming solar radiation. Soil moisture–atmosphere processes thus contribute to the relationship observed across models between summertime present-day simulated climate and future warming projections over land.
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    J. Clim. (2018) 31(12): 4865–4878
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