Characterizing the Relationship between Temperature and Soil Moisture Extremes and Their Role in the Exacerbation of Heat Waves over the Contiguous United States
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Characterizing the Relationship between Temperature and Soil Moisture Extremes and Their Role in the Exacerbation of Heat Waves over the Contiguous United States

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Climate
  • Description:
    Increased heat-wave frequency across the United States has led to the need for improved predictability of heat-wave events. A detailed understanding of land–atmosphere interactions and the relationship between soil moisture and temperature extremes could provide useful information for prediction. This study identifies, for many locations, a threshold of soil moisture below which there is an increase in the sensitivity of atmospheric temperature to declining soil moisture. This shift to a hypersensitive regime causes the atmosphere to be more susceptible to atmospherically driven heat-wave conditions. The soil moisture breakpoint where the regime shift occurs is estimated using segmented regression applied to observations and reanalysis data. It is shown that as the soil gets drier, there is a concomitant change in the rate of decrease in latent heat flux and increase in sensible heat flux leading to a strong positive feedback of increased air temperature near the surface, which further dries out the soil. Central, southwestern, and southeastern parts of the United States seem to have regions of clear regime shifts, while the eastern part of the United States generally does not get dry enough to reveal significant breakpoints. Sensible heat flux is seen to be a primary driver of this increased temperature sensitivity aided by the drop in latent heat flux. An investigation of flux tower sites verifies the breakpoint–flux relationships found in reanalysis data. Accurate estimation of these breakpoints can contribute to improved heat-wave prediction.
  • Source:
    J. Climate, 34, 2175–2187
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    Submitted
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