Verification of Land–Atmosphere Coupling in Forecast Models, Reanalyses, and Land Surface Models Using Flux Site Observations

Dirmeyer PA, Chen L, Wu J, Shin C-S, Huang B, Cash BA, Bosilovich MG, Mahanama S, Koster RD, Santanello JA, Ek MB, Balsamo G, Dutra E, Lawrence DM
AMS, JHM, February 2018

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This study compares four model systems in three configurations (LSM, LSM + GCM, and reanalysis) with global flux tower observations to validate states, surface fluxes, and coupling indices between land and atmosphere. Models clearly underrepresent the feedback of surface fluxes on boundary layer properties (the atmospheric leg of land–atmosphere coupling) and may overrepresent the connection between soil moisture and surface fluxes (the terrestrial leg). Models generally underrepresent spatial and temporal variability relative to observations, which is at least partially an artifact of the differences in spatial scale between model grid boxes and flux tower footprints. All models bias high in near-surface humidity and downward shortwave radiation, struggle to represent precipitation accurately, and show serious problems in reproducing surface albedos. These errors create challenges for models to partition surface energy properly, and errors are traceable through the surface energy and water cycles. The spatial distribution of the amplitude and phase of annual cycles (first harmonic) are generally well reproduced, but the biases in means tend to reflect in these amplitudes. Interannual variability is also a challenge for models to reproduce. Although the models validate better against Bowen-ratio-corrected surface flux observations, which allow for closure of surface energy balances at flux tower sites, it is not clear whether the corrected fluxes are more representative of actual fluxes. The analysis illuminates targets for coupled land–atmosphere model development, as well as the value of long-term globally distributed observational monitoring.