Evaluation of 30 urban land surface models in the Urban-PLUMBER project: Phase 1 results

Mathew J. Lipson, Sue Grimmond, Martin Best, Gab Abramowitz, Andrew Coutts, Nigel Tapper, Jong Jin Baik, Meiring Beyers, Lewis Blunn, Souhail Boussetta, Elie Bou-Zeid, Martin G. De Kauwe, Cécile de Munck, Matthias Demuzere, Simone Fatichi, Krzysztof Fortuniak, Beom Soon Han, Margaret A. Hendry, Yukihiro Kikegawa, Hiroaki KondoDoo Il Lee, Sang Hyun Lee, Aude Lemonsu, Tiago Machado, Gabriele Manoli, Alberto Martilli, Valéry Masson, Joe McNorton, Naika Meili, David Meyer, Kerry A. Nice, Keith W. Oleson, Seung Bu Park, Michael Roth, Robert Schoetter, Andrés Simón-Moral, Gert Jan Steeneveld, Ting Sun, Yuya Takane, Marcus Thatcher, Aristofanis Tsiringakis, Mikhail Varentsov, Chenghao Wang, Zhi Hua Wang, Andy J. Pitman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Accurately predicting weather and climate in cities is critical for safeguarding human health and strengthening urban resilience. Multimodel evaluations can lead to model improvements; however, there have been no major intercomparisons of urban-focussed land surface models in over a decade. Here, in Phase 1 of the Urban-PLUMBER project, we evaluate the ability of 30 land surface models to simulate surface energy fluxes critical to atmospheric meteorological and air quality simulations. We establish minimum and upper performance expectations for participating models using simple information-limited models as benchmarks. Compared with the last major model intercomparison at the same site, we find broad improvement in the current cohort's predictions of short-wave radiation, sensible and latent heat fluxes, but little or no improvement in long-wave radiation and momentum fluxes. Models with a simple urban representation (e.g., ‘slab’ schemes) generally perform well, particularly when combined with sophisticated hydrological/vegetation models. Some mid-complexity models (e.g., ‘canyon’ schemes) also perform well, indicating efforts to integrate vegetation and hydrology processes have paid dividends. The most complex models that resolve three-dimensional interactions between buildings in general did not perform as well as other categories. However, these models also tended to have the simplest representations of hydrology and vegetation. Models without any urban representation (i.e., vegetation-only land surface models) performed poorly for latent heat fluxes, and reasonably for other energy fluxes at this suburban site. Our analysis identified widespread human errors in initial submissions that substantially affected model performances. Although significant efforts are applied to correct these errors, we conclude that human factors are likely to influence results in this (or any) model intercomparison, particularly where participating scientists have varying experience and first languages. These initial results are for one suburban site, and future phases of Urban-PLUMBER will evaluate models across 20 sites in different urban and regional climate zones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-169
Number of pages44
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number758
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • benchmark
  • energy balance
  • intercomparison
  • model evaluation
  • urban climate
  • urban meteorology


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