Land water and energy balances vary around the globe because of variations in amount and temporal distribution of water and energy supplies and because of variations in land characteristics. The former control (water and energy supplies) explains much more variance in water and energy balances than the latter (land characteristics). A largely untested hypothesis underlying most global models of land water and energy balance is the assumption that parameter values based on estimated geographic distributions of soil and vegetation characteristics improve the performance of the models relative to the use of globally constant land parameters. This hypothesis is tested here through an evaluation of the improvement in performance of one land model associated with the introduction of geographic information on land characteristics. The capability of the model to reproduce annual runoff ratios of large river basins, with and without information on the global distribution of albedo, rooting depth, and stomatal resistance, is assessed. To allow a fair comparison, the model is calibrated in both cases by adjusting globally constant scale factors for snow-free albedo, non-water-stressed bulk stomatal resistance, and critical root density (which is used to determine effective root-zone depth). The test is made in stand-alone mode, that is, using prescribed radiative and atmospheric forcing. Model performance is evaluated by comparing modeled runoff ratios with observed runoff ratios for a set of basins where precipitation biases have been shown to be minimal. The withholding of information on global variations in these parameters leads to a significant degradation of the capability of the model to simulate the annual runoff ratio. An additional set of optimization experiments, in which the parameters are examined individually, reveals that the stomatal resistance is, by far, the parameter among these three whose spatial variations add the most predictive power to the model in stand-alone mode. Further single-parameter experiments with surface roughness length, available water capacity, thermal conductivity, and thermal diffusivity show very little sensitivity to estimated global variations in these parameters. Finally, it is found that even the constant-parameter model performance exceeds that of the Budyko and generalized Turc-Pike water-balance equations, suggesting that the model benefits also from information on the geographic variability of the temporal structure of forcing.
Additional publication details
Global modeling of land water and energy balances. Part II: Land-characteristic contributions to spatial variability