A sensitivity study on the response of convection initiation to in situ soil moisture in the central United States

Shanshui Yuan, Yuechun Wang, Steven M. Quiring, Trent W. Ford, Adam L. Houston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil moisture can affect precipitation, however there is significant debate about the sign and strength of land–atmosphere coupling. This may be due to the differences regarding the selection of data sources, the presence of atmospheric persistence, and the spatial and temporal scales of the analysis. This study is a sensitivity analysis that quantifies how each of these factors influences land–atmosphere coupling in the central United States from 2005 to 2007. Four different sources of soil moisture are used to represent soil moisture: in situ measurements and three satellite products. The Thunderstorm Observation by Radar (ThOR) algorithm is used to identify convective events. The results show that warm-season afternoon convection initiates preferentially over dry soil, if in situ measurements are used. However, when satellite data are used the sign and strength of the soil moisture-precipitation coupling varies depending on which satellite dataset is used. This demonstrates that evaluations of land–atmosphere coupling strength are sensitive to the source of soil moisture. Our results also show that accounting for atmospheric persistence tends to weaken apparent land–atmosphere coupling. Changing the spatial scale of the analysis can also influence the sign and coupling strength. Analyses that are performed at a coarser spatial resolution tend to indicate a wet preference because they do not capture the local negative feedbacks. This study demonstrates that contradictions in the literature regarding the sign and strength of soil moisture-precipitation feedbacks can be partly attributed to differences in datasets, methods and scale of the analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2013-2028
Number of pages16
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Convection initiation
  • In situ soil moisture
  • Land–atmosphere interactions
  • ThOR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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