Climate Dynamics

, Volume 30, Issue 2–3, pp 145–160 | Cite as

Incorporating organic soil into a global climate model

  • David M. LawrenceEmail author
  • Andrew G. Slater


Organic matter significantly alters a soil’s thermal and hydraulic properties but is not typically included in land-surface schemes used in global climate models. This omission has consequences for ground thermal and moisture regimes, particularly in the high-latitudes where soil carbon content is generally high. Global soil carbon data is used to build a geographically distributed, profiled soil carbon density dataset for the Community Land Model (CLM). CLM parameterizations for soil thermal and hydraulic properties are modified to accommodate both mineral and organic soil matter. Offline simulations including organic soil are characterized by cooler annual mean soil temperatures (up to ∼2.5°C cooler for regions of high soil carbon content). Cooling is strong in summer due to modulation of early and mid-summer soil heat flux. Winter temperatures are slightly warmer as organic soils do not cool as efficiently during fall and winter. High porosity and hydraulic conductivity of organic soil leads to a wetter soil column but with comparatively low surface layer saturation levels and correspondingly low soil evaporation. When CLM is coupled to the Community Atmosphere Model, the reduced latent heat flux drives deeper boundary layers, associated reductions in low cloud fraction, and warmer summer air temperatures in the Arctic. Lastly, the insulative properties of organic soil reduce interannual soil temperature variability, but only marginally. This result suggests that, although the mean soil temperature cooling will delay the simulated date at which frozen soil begins to thaw, organic matter may provide only limited insulation from surface warming.


Soil carbon Soil temperature Land-surface scheme Permafrost Climate modeling 



We would like to thank the Global Soil Data Task, the IGBP, ORNL DAAC and ISLSCP Initiative II for providing the soil carbon data. We would also like to thank Vladimir Romanovsky, Keith Oleson, and Larry Hinzman for helpful comments and suggestions as well as constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers. Funding support is provided by U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, cooperative agreement no. DE-FC03-97ER62402/A010 and National Science Foundation grants OPP-0229769 and OPP-0229651 and NASA NNG04GJ39G.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental SciencesBoulderUSA

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