ESRL/PSD Seminar Series

Potential reemergence of seasonal soil moisture anomalies in North America

Matt Newman
University of Colorado/CIRES and NOAA/ESRL/PSD



Soil moisture anomalies within the root zone (roughly, soil depths down to ~0.4m) typically persist only a few months. Consequently, land-surface related climate predictability research has often focused on sub-seasonal to seasonal time scales. However, in this study of in situ datasets and land data assimilation products spanning 1950-2010, we find that root zone soil moisture anomalies can recur several or more seasons after they were initiated, indicating potential interannual predictability. Lead-lag correlations show that this recurrence often happens during one fixed season and also seems related to the greater memory of soil moisture anomalies within the layer beneath the root zone, which is on the order of several months to over a year. That is, in some seasons, notably spring and summer when the vertical soil water potential gradient reverses sign throughout much of North America, deeper soil moisture anomalies appear to return to the surface, thereby restoring an earlier root zone anomaly that had decayed. We call this process “reemergence”, in analogy with a similar seasonally-varying process (with very different physics) providing winter-to-winter memory to the extratropical ocean surface layer. Pronounced spatial and seasonal dependence of reemergence is found that is frequently, but not always, robust across datasets. Also, some of its aspects appear sensitive to spatial and temporal sampling, especially within the shorter in situ datasets, and to precipitation variability. Like its namesake, soil moisture reemergence may enhance interannual-to-decadal variability, notably of droughts. Its detailed physics and role within the climate system, however, remain to be understood.

Thursday Dec 06, 2018
2:30 pm
Seminar Coordinator: Madeline Sturgill (

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