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Divergent surface and total soil moisture projections under global warming

March 1, 2017

Land aridity has been projected to increase with global warming. Such projections are mostly based on off-line aridity and drought metrics applied to climate model outputs but also are supported by climate-model projections of decreased surface soil moisture. Here we comprehensively analyze soil moisture projections from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5, including surface, total, and layer-by-layer soil moisture. We identify a robust vertical gradient of projected mean soil moisture changes, with more negative changes near the surface. Some regions of the northern middle to high latitudes exhibit negative annual surface changes but positive total changes. We interpret this behavior in the context of seasonal changes in the surface water budget. This vertical pattern implies that the extensive drying predicted by off-line drought metrics, while consistent with the projected decline in surface soil moisture, will tend to overestimate (negatively) changes in total soil water availability.

Publication Year 2017
Title Divergent surface and total soil moisture projections under global warming
DOI 10.1002/2016GL071921
Authors Alexis Berg, Justin Sheffield, Paul C.D. Milly
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geophysical Research Letters
Index ID 70185708
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Eastern Branch