Effects of water-table configuration on the planetary boundary layer over the San Joaquin River Watershed, California

James M. Gilbert, Reed M. Maxwell, David J. Gochis

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20 Scopus citations


The boundary layer, land surface, and subsurface are important coevolving components of hydrologic systems. While previous studies have examined the connections between soil moisture, groundwater, and the atmosphere, the atmospheric response to regional water-table drawdown has received less attention. To address this question, a coupled hydrologic-atmospheric model [Parallel Flow hydrologic model (ParFlow) and WRF] was used to simulate the San Joaquin River watershed of central California. This study focuses specifically on the planetary boundary layer (PBL) in simulations with two imposed water-table configurations: a high water table mimicking natural conditions and a lowered water table reflecting historic groundwater extraction in California's Central Valley, although effect of irrigation was not simulated. An ensemble of simulations including three boundary layer schemes and six initial conditions was performed for both water-table conditions to assess conceptual and initial condition uncertainty. Results show that increased regional water-table depth is associated with a significant increase in peak PBL height for both initial condition and boundary layer scheme conditions, although the choice of scheme interacts to affect the magnitude of peak PBL height change. Analysis of simulated land surface fluxes shows the change in PBL height can be attributed to decreasing midday evaporative fraction under lowered water-table conditions. Furthermore, the sensitivity of PBL height to changes in water-table depth appears to depend on local water-table variation within 10 m of the land surface and the regional average water-table depth. Finally, soil moisture changes associated with lowered water tables are linked to changes in PBL circulation as indicated by vertical winds and turbulence kinetic energy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1471-1488
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Anthropogenic effects
  • Coupled models
  • Heat budgets/fluxes
  • Hydrology
  • Regional effects
  • Watersheds


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