Implementing and evaluating variable soil thickness in the Community Land Model, version 4.5 (CLM4.5)

Michael A. Brunke, Patrick Broxton, Jon Pelletier, David Gochis, Pieter Hazenberg, David M. Lawrence, L. Ruby Leung, Guo Yue Niu, Peter A. Troch, Xubin Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


One of the recognized weaknesses of land surface models as used in weather and climate models is the assumption of constant soil thickness because of the lack of global estimates of bedrock depth. Using a 30-arc-s global dataset for the thickness of relatively porous, unconsolidated sediments over bedrock, spatial variation in soil thickness is included here in version 4.5 of the Community Land Model (CLM4.5). The number of soil layers for each grid cell is determined from the average soil depth for each 0.9° latitude × 1.25° longitude grid cell. The greatest changes in the simulation with variable soil thickness are to baseflow, with the annual minimum generally occurring earlier. Smaller changes are seen in latent heat flux and surface runoff primarily as a result of an increase in the annual cycle amplitude. These changes are related to soil moisture changes that are most substantial in locations with shallow bedrock. Total water storage (TWS) anomalies are not strongly affected over most river basins since most basins contain mostly deep soils, but TWS anomalies are substantially different for a river basin with more mountainous terrain. Additionally, the annual cycle in soil temperature is partially affected by including realistic soil thicknesses resulting from changes in the vertical profile of heat capacity and thermal conductivity. However, the largest changes to soil temperature are introduced by the soil moisture changes in the variable soil thickness simulation. This implementation of variable soil thickness represents a step forward in land surface model development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3441-3461
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Land surface model
  • Models and modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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