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Nonlinear Processes in Geophysics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 16, issue 1
Nonlin. Processes Geophys., 16, 141–150, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Special issue: Nonlinear and Scaling Processes in Hydrology and Soil...

Nonlin. Processes Geophys., 16, 141–150, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  25 Feb 2009

25 Feb 2009

On the scaling characteristics of observed and simulated spatial soil moisture fields

M. Gebremichael1, R. Rigon2, G. Bertoldi3, and T. M. Over4 M. Gebremichael et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269, USA
  • 2Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile e Ambientale/CUDAM, Universitá di Trento, Via Mesiano, 77, 38050 Trento, Italia
  • 3Institute for Alpine Environment, EURAC research, Viale Druso 1, 39100 Bolzano, Italia
  • 4Department of Geology/Geography, Eastern Illinois University, 600 Lincoln Ave., Charleston, IL 61920-3099, USA

Abstract. By providing continuous high-resolution simulations of soil moisture fields, distributed hydrologic models could be powerful tools to advance the scientific community's understanding of the space-time variability and scaling characteristics of soil moisture fields. However, in order to use the soil moisture simulations from hydrologic models with confidence, it is important to understand whether the models are able to represent in a reliable way the processes regulating soil moisture variability. In this study, a comparison of the scaling characteristics of spatial soil moisture fields derived from a set of microwave radiometer observations from the Southern Great Plains 1997 experiment and corresponding simulations using the distributed hydrologic model GEOtop is performed through the use of generalized variograms. Microwave observations and model simulations are in agreement with respect to suggesting the existence of a scale-invariance property in the variograms of spatial soil moisture fields, and indicating that the scaling characteristics vary with changes in the spatial average soil water content. However, observations and simulations give contradictory results regarding the relationship between the scaling parameters (i.e. spatial organization) and average soil water content. The drying process increased the spatial correlation of the microwave observations at both short and long separation distances while increasing the rate of decay of correlation with distance. The effect of drying on the spatial correlation of the model simulations was more complex, depending on the storm and the simulation examined, but for the largest storm in the simulation most similar to the observations, drying increased the long-range correlation but decreased the short-range. This is an indication that model simulations, while reproducing correctly the total streamflow at the outlet of the watershed, may not accurately reproduce the runoff production mechanisms. Consideration of the scaling characteristics of spatial soil moisture fields can therefore serve as a more intensive means for validating distributed hydrologic models, compared to the traditional approach of only comparing the streamflow hydrographs.

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