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Under what conditions do the global warming responses of drought indices and land-surface models agree?
  • Jacob Scheff,
  • Marysa Lague,
  • Sloan Coats
Jacob Scheff
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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Marysa Lague
University of Saskatchewan
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Sloan Coats
University of Hawaii at Manoa
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The regional to global responses of the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index, Palmer Drought Severity Index, and Aridity Index to future global warming tend to be much more pervasively and strongly negative than the responses of comprehensive land model runoff and bulk soil-moisture outputs to the same warming. We term these systematic differences “index-impact gaps.” Some studies have assumed that these gaps arise because land-surface models include water-saving CO2-plant effects that the dryness indices do not, but recently published work makes clear that the gaps largely persist even in model simulations in which these effects are switched off. Thus, the main reason(s) for the index-impact gaps are still unclear, making it difficult to trust either the common dryness indices or the comprehensive land-surface models under climate change. In this study, we are investigating several postulated causes of these index-impact gaps using sensitivity experiments with the state-of-the-art Community Land Model version 5.0. In addition to CO2-plant effects, we are testing the roles of stomatal closure driven by high vapor-pressure deficits, short-term runoff enhancement due to sharper concentration of rain in time with warming, and annual-scale runoff enhancement due to changes in the seasonality of precipitation and/or infiltration with warming. If CLM5.0’s runoff and bulk soil-moisture responses start to agree with the dryness-index responses much more after eliminating these pathways, it will imply that the dryness indices are in fact a useful theoretical baseline for understanding the comprehensive model responses. However, if the index-impact gaps still remain wide, it will imply either that dryness-index responses are fundamentally different from runoff and soil-moisture responses to climate change, or else that CLM5.0’s evapotranspiration is not sensitive enough to rising temperatures. Further experiments will be required in that case.