Observed land-atmosphere coupling from satellite remote sensing and reanalysis

Craig R. Ferguson, Eric F. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


The lack of observational data for use in evaluating the realism of model-based land-atmosphere feedback signal and strength has been deemed a major obstacle to future improvements to seasonal weather prediction by the Global Land-Atmosphere Coupling Experiment (GLACE). To address this need, a 7-yr (2002-09) satellite remote sensing data record is exploited to produce for the first time global maps of predominant coupling signals. Specifically, a previously implemented convective triggering potential (CTP)-humidity index (HI) framework for describing atmospheric controls on soil moisture-rainfall feedbacks is revisited and generalized for global application using CTP and HI from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), soil moisture from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (EOS) (AMSR-E), and the U.S. Climate Prediction Center (CPC) merged satellite rainfall product (CMORPH). Based on observations taken during an AMSR-E-derived convective rainfall season, the global land area is categorized into four convective regimes: 1) those with atmospheric conditions favoring deep convection over wet soils, 2) those with atmospheric conditions favoring deep convection over dry soils, 3) those with atmospheric conditions that suppress convection over any land surface, and 4) those with atmospheric conditions that support convection over any land surface. Classification maps are produced using both the original and modified frameworks, and later contrasted with similarly derived maps using inputs from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Modern Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA). Both AIRS and MERRA datasets of CTP and HI are validated using radiosonde observations. The combinations of methods and data sources employed in this study enable evaluation of not only the sensitivity of the classification schemes themselves to their inputs, but also the uncertainty in the resultant classification maps. The findings are summarized for 20 climatic regions and three GLACE coupling hot spots, as well as zonally and globally. Globally, of the four-class scheme, regions for which convection is favored over wet and dry soils accounted for the greatest and least extent, respectively. Despite vast differences among the maps, many geographically large regions of concurrence exist. Through its ability to compensate for the latitudinally varying CTP-HI-rainfall tendency characteristics observed in this study, the revised classification framework overcomes limitations of the original framework. By identifying regions where coupling persists using satellite remote sensing this study provides the first observationally based guidance for future spatially and temporally focused studies of land-atmosphere interactions. Joint distributions of CTP and HI and soil moisture, rainfall occurrence, and depth demonstrate the relevance of CTP and HI in coupling studies and their potential value in future model evaluation, rainfall forecast, and/or hydrologic consistency applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1221-1254
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Atmosphere-land interaction
  • Feedback
  • Remote sensing
  • Satellite data


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