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An underestimated role of precipitation frequency in regulating summer soil moisture

  • Chaoyang Wu
  • Jing M. Chen
  • Jukka Pumpanen
  • Alessandro Cescatti
  • Barbara Marcolla
  • Peter D. Blanken
  • Jonas Ardö
  • Yanhong Tang
  • Vincenzo Magliulo
  • Teodoro Georgiadis
  • Henrik Soegaard
  • David R. Cook
  • Richard J. Harding
Publishing year: 2012
Language: English
Pages: 1-9
Publication/Series: Environmental Research Letters
Volume: 7
Issue: 2
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: IOP Publishing

Abstract english

Soil moisture induced droughts are expected to become more frequent under future global climate change. Precipitation has been previously assumed to be mainly responsible for variability in summer soil moisture. However, little is known about the impacts of precipitation frequency on summer soil moisture, either interannually or spatially. To better understand the temporal and spatial drivers of summer drought, 415 site yr measurements observed at 75 flux sites world wide were used to analyze the temporal and spatial relationships between summer soil water content (SWC) and the precipitation frequencies at various temporal scales, i.e., from half-hourly, 3, 6, 12 and 24 h measurements. Summer precipitation was found to be an indicator of interannual SWC variability with r of 0.49 (p < 0.001) for the overall dataset. However, interannual variability in summer SWC was also significantly correlated with the five precipitation frequencies and the sub-daily precipitation frequencies seemed to explain the interannual SWC variability better than the total of precipitation. Spatially, all these precipitation frequencies were better indicators of summer SWC than precipitation totals, but these better performances were only observed in non-forest ecosystems. Our results demonstrate that precipitation frequency may play an important role in regulating both interannual and spatial variations of summer SWC, which has probably been overlooked or underestimated. However, the spatial interpretation should carefully consider other factors, such as the plant functional types and soil characteristics of diverse ecoregions.


  • Physical Geography
  • summer drought
  • precipitation frequency
  • climate change
  • plant
  • functional types


  • remote sensing-lup-obsolete
  • ISSN: 1748-9326
E-mail: jonas [dot] ardo [at] nateko [dot] lu [dot] se


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Dept of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science


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