Climate-controlled root zone parameters show potential to improve water flux simulations by land surface models

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The root zone storage capacity (Sr) is the maximum volume of water in the subsurface that can potentially be accessed by vegetation for transpiration. It influences the seasonality of transpiration as well as fast and slow runoff processes. Many studies have shown that Sr is heterogeneous as controlled by local climate conditions, which affect vegetation strategies in sizing their root system able to support plant growth and to prevent water shortages. Root zone parameterization in most land surface models does not account for this climate control on root development and is based on lookup tables that prescribe the same root zone parameters worldwide for each vegetation class. These lookup tables are obtained from measurements of rooting structure that are scarce and hardly representative of the ecosystem scale. The objective of this research is to quantify and evaluate the effects of a climate-controlled representation of Sr on the water fluxes modeled by the Hydrology Tiled ECMWF Scheme for Surface Exchanges over Land (HTESSEL) land surface model. Climate-controlled Sr is estimated here with the "memory method"(MM) in which Sr is derived from the vegetation's memory of past root zone water storage deficits. Sr,MM is estimated for 15 river catchments over Australia across three contrasting climate regions: tropical, temperate and Mediterranean. Suitable representations of Sr,MM are implemented in an improved version of HTESSEL (Moisture Depth - MD) by accordingly modifying the soil depths to obtain a model Sr,MD that matches Sr,MM in the 15 catchments. In the control version of HTESSEL (CTR), Sr,CTR is larger than Sr,MM in 14 out of 15 catchments. Furthermore, the variability among the individual catchments of Sr,MM (117-722 mm) is considerably larger than of Sr,CTR (491-725 mm). The climate-controlled representation of Sr in the MD version results in a significant and consistent improvement of the modeled monthly seasonal climatology (1975-2010) and interannual anomalies of river discharge compared with observations. However, the effects on biases in long-term annual mean river discharge are small and mixed. The modeled monthly seasonal climatology of the catchment discharge improved in MD compared to CTR: the correlation with observations increased significantly from 0.84 to 0.90 in tropical catchments, from 0.74 to 0.86 in temperate catchments and from 0.86 to 0.96 in Mediterranean catchments. Correspondingly, the correlations of the interannual discharge anomalies improve significantly in MD from 0.74 to 0.78 in tropical catchments, from 0.80 to 0.85 in temperate catchments and from 0.71 to 0.79 in Mediterranean catchments. The results indicate that the use of climate-controlled Sr,MM can significantly improve the timing of modeled discharge and, by extension, also evaporation fluxes in land surface models. On the other hand, the method has not been shown to significantly reduce long-term climatological model biases over the catchments considered for this study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-743
Number of pages19
JournalEarth System Dynamics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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