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A New Climate Process “The Soil Moisture Re-Emergence” is Discovered

Long-term droughts (e.g., the recent California drought) have resulted in billions of dollars of economic losses and severe stress on ecosystem productivity. Understanding the underlying climate processes and associated predictability is one of the biggest challenges in scientific literature and that have long-lasting societal implications (e.g., water availability for agricultural sectors).

In new research published in the Journal of Climate, Sanjiv Kumar and co-authors have discovered a new climate process, “the soil-moisture re-emergence” that can help us better predict long-term drought and rain conditions. This is collaborative research between Auburn University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratories, and the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder.

Kumar and colleagues found that root zone soil moisture anomalies can recur several or more seasons after they were initiated, indicating potential inter-annual predictability. The recurrence often happens during one fixed season and seems related to the greater memory of soil moisture anomalies within the layer beneath the root zone, with a memory of several months to over a year.

Researchers have proposed two hypothesis, “the demand driven hypotheses” and the ”anomaly propagation hypothesis” for the soil moisture re-emergence. Further research is needed to prove or disapprove the hypothesis; but, if found, this is a major breakthrough in terms of the role of land in the climate system. One major implication of this research is that it provides a physically plausible pathway to predict soil moisture a year or more in advance for the agricultural sector.

NIFA supports this research through Hatch Act Funds.

Read the research article at the Journal of Climate

Want to read about more impacts like this? Check out Fresh from the Field, a weekly bulletin showcasing transformative impacts made by grantees funded by NIFA.

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