Evaluation of the AMIP soil moisture simulations

Alan Robock, C. Adam Schlosser, Konstantin Ya Vinnikov, Nina A. Speranskaya, Jared K. Entin, Shuang Qiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


The Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project (AMIP) conducted simulations by 30 different atmospheric general circulation models forced by observed sea surface temperatures for the 10-year period, 1979-1988. These models include a variety of different soil moisture parameterizations which influence their simulations of the entire land surface hydrology, including evaporation, soil moisture, and runoff, and their simulations of the energy balance at the surface. Here we compare these parameterizations, and evaluate their simulations of soil moisture by comparing them with actual observations of soil moisture, literally ground truth. We compared model-generated 'data sets' and simulations of soil moisture with observations from 150 stations in the former Soviet Union for 1979-1985 and Illinois for 1981-1988. The spatial patterns, mean annual cycles, and interannual variations were compared to plant-available soil moisture in the upper 1 m of soil. The model-generated 'data sets' are quite different from the observations, and from each other in many regions, even though they use the same bucket model calculation method. The AMIP model simulations are also quite different from each other, especially in the tropics. Models with 15-cm field capacities do not capture the observed large high latitude values of soil moisture. In addition, none of the models properly simulate winter soil moisture variations in high latitudes, keeping soil moisture constant, while observations show that soil moisture vanes in the winter as much as in other seasons. The observed interannual variations of soil moisture were not captured by any of the AMIP models. Several models have large soil moisture trends during the first year or two of the AMIP simulations, with potentially large impacts on global hydrological cycle trends and on other climate elements. This is because the simulations were begun without spinning up the soil moisture to the model climatology. The length of time it took for each to reach equilibrium depended on the particular parameterization. Although observed temporal autocorrelation time scales are a few months, some models had much longer time scales than that. In particular, the three parameterizations based on the Simple Biosphere model (SiB) had trends in some regions for virtually the entire AMIP simulation period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-208
Number of pages28
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Dec 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Global and Planetary Change


  • Climate
  • Field capacity
  • General circulation models
  • Moisture
  • Simulation
  • Soil


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