Sensitivities of land cover-precipitation feedback to convective triggering

Liang Chen, Paul A. Dirmeyer, Ahmed Tawfik, David M. Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The land surface state can be an important factor in the triggering of precipitation, whose depiction in Earth system models (ESMs) crucially relies on the representation of convective initiation. However, the sensitivity of land-cover change-precipitation feedbacks to different parameterized triggering criteria in ESMs has not been examined. In this study, a new triggering mechanism based on the heated condensation framework (HCF) is implemented in the Community Earth System Model (CESM). A set of land-cover change experiments with different convective triggering conditions are performed to evaluate the influence of convective triggering on land-atmosphere coupling strength and the response of summer afternoon precipitation to land-cover change over North America. Compared with the default parameterization, which depends on a CAPE threshold, the HCF trigger shows an improvement in the diurnal timing of summer precipitation but larger dry biases over much of the study area. With the HCF trigger, CESM exhibits weakened coupling strength between soil moisture and surface turbulent fluxes over the Great Plains. The surface temperature deficit, as an additional triggering criterion in HCF, is not significantly coupled with surface fluxes over the central Great Plains despite strong latent heat-CAPE coupling. In contrast to the CAPE-trigger simulations, which indicate increased precipitation over the Great Plains after agricultural expansion, the HCF-trigger simulations show significantly increased afternoon precipitation only over the northern plains, which is mainly associated with more frequent deep convection. The discrepancies suggest caveats when investigating the impacts of land-cover change on precipitation, because the magnitude and spatial patterns of precipitation change can be greatly affected by the treatment of convection in ESMs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2265-2283
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmosphere-land interaction
  • Land use
  • Precipitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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