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Journal Articles Journal of Hydrometeorology Year : 2016

The Plumbing of Land Surface Models: Is Poor Performance a Result of Methodology or Data Quality?

Ned Haughton
  • Function : Author
Gab Abramowitz
  • Function : Author
Andy J Pitman
  • Function : Author
Dani Or
  • Function : Author
Martin J Best
  • Function : Author
Helen R Johnson
  • Function : Author
Gianpaolo Balsamo
Aaron Boone
Bertrand Decharme
Paul A Dirmeyer
  • Function : Author
Jairui Dong
  • Function : Author
Michael Ek
  • Function : Author
Zichang Guo
  • Function : Author
Vanessa Haverd
Bart J J van den Hurk
  • Function : Author
Grey S Nearing
  • Function : Author
Bernard Pak
  • Function : Author
Joe A Santanello
  • Function : Author
Lauren E Stevens
  • Function : Author


The Protocol for the Analysis of Land Surface Models (PALS) Land Surface Model Benchmarking Evaluation Project (PLUMBER) illustrated the value of prescribing a priori performance targets in model intercomparisons. It showed that the performance of turbulent energy flux predictions from different land surface models, at a broad range of flux tower sites using common evaluation metrics, was on average worse than relatively simple empirical models. For sensible heat fluxes, all land surface models were outperformed by a linear regression against downward shortwave radiation. For latent heat flux, all land surface models were outperformed by a regression against downward shortwave radiation, surface air temperature, and relative humidity. These results are explored here in greater detail and possible causes are investigated. It is examined whether particular metrics or sites unduly influence the collated results, whether results change according to timescale aggregation, and whether a lack of energy conservation in flux tower data gives the empirical models an unfair advantage in the intercomparison. It is demonstrated that energy conservation in the observational data is not responsible for these results. It is also shown that the partitioning between sensible and latent heat fluxes in LSMs, rather than the calculation of available energy, is the cause of the original findings. Finally, evidence is presented that suggests that the nature of this partitioning problem is likely shared among all contributing LSMs. While a single candidate explanation for why land surface models perform poorly relative to empirical benchmarks in PLUMBER could not be found, multiple possible explanations are excluded and guidance is provided on where future research should focus.
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hal-02985166 , version 1 (29-03-2021)



Ned Haughton, Gab Abramowitz, Andy J Pitman, Dani Or, Martin J Best, et al.. The Plumbing of Land Surface Models: Is Poor Performance a Result of Methodology or Data Quality?. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 2016, 17 (6), pp.1705-1723. ⟨10.1175/JHM-D-15-0171.1⟩. ⟨hal-02985166⟩
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