Interrelationships between soil moisture and precipitation large scales, inferred from satellite observations
Tuttle, Samuel Everett
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Soil moisture influences the water and energy cycles of terrestrial environments, and thus plays an important climatic role. However, the behavior of soil moisture at large scales, including its impact on atmospheric processes such as precipitation, is not well characterized. Satellite remote sensing allows for indirect observation of large-scale soil moisture, but validation of these data is complicated by the difference in scales between remote sensing footprints and direct ground-based measurements. To address this problem, a method, based on information theory (specifically, mutual information), was developed to determine the useful information content of satellite soil moisture records using precipitation observations. This method was applied to three soil moisture datasets derived from Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) measurements over the contiguous U.S., allowing for spatial identification of the algorithm with the least inferred error. Ancillary measures of biomass and topography revealed a strong dependence between algorithm performance and confounding surface properties. Next, statistical causal identification methods (i.e. Granger causality) were used to examine the link between AMSR-E soil moisture and the occurrence of next day precipitation, accounting for long term variability and autocorrelation in precipitation. The probability of precipitation occurrence was modeled using a probit regression framework, and soil moisture was added to the model in order to test for statistical significance and sign. A contrasting pattern of positive feedback in the western U.S. and negative feedback in the east was found, implying a possible amplification of drought and flood conditions in the west and damping in the east. Finally, observations and simulations were used to demonstrate the pitfalls of determining causality between soil moisture and precipitation. It is shown that ignoring long term variability and precipitation autocorrelation can result in artificial positive correlation between soil moisture and precipitation, unless explicitly accounted for in the analysis. In total, this dissertation evaluates large-scale soil moisture measurements, outlines important factors that can cloud the determination of land surface-atmosphere hydrologic feedback, and examines the causal linkage between soil moisture and precipitation at large scales.