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Seasonal soil moisture and drought occurrence in Europe in CMIP5 projections for the 21st century

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Abstract

Projections for near-surface soil moisture content in Europe for the 21st century were derived from simulations performed with 26 CMIP5 global climate models (GCMs). Two Representative Concentration Pathways, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, were considered. Unlike in previous research in general, projections were calculated separately for all four calendar seasons. To make the moisture contents simulated by the various GCMs commensurate, the moisture data were normalized by the corresponding local maxima found in the output of each individual GCM. A majority of the GCMs proved to perform satisfactorily in simulating the geographical distribution of recent soil moisture in the warm season, the spatial correlation with an satellite-derived estimate varying between 0.4 and 0.8. In southern Europe, long-term mean soil moisture is projected to decline substantially in all seasons. In summer and autumn, pronounced soil drying also afflicts western and central Europe. In northern Europe, drying mainly occurs in spring, in correspondence with an earlier melt of snow and soil frost. The spatial pattern of drying is qualitatively similar for both RCP scenarios, but weaker in magnitude under RCP4.5. In general, those GCMs that simulate the largest decreases in precipitation and increases in temperature and solar radiation tend to produce the most severe soil drying. Concurrently with the reduction of time-mean soil moisture, episodes with an anomalously low soil moisture, occurring once in 10 years in the recent past simulations, become far more common. In southern Europe by the late 21st century under RCP8.5, such events would be experienced about every second year.

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Acknowledgements

This work has been funded by the Academy of Finland (the ADAPT and PLUMES projects, decisions 260785 and 278067, the FORBIO project of the Strategic Research Council and the Centre of Excellence, decision 272041), the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (the ILMAPUSKURI project) and the European Commission (the Life+ project MONIMET, Grant agreement LIFE12 ENV/FI000409). The CMIP5 GCM data were downloaded from the Earth System Grid Federation data archive (http://pcmdi9.llnl.gov) and the remotely-sensed soil moisture data from the Climate Change Initiative Phase 1 Soil Moisture Project of the European Space Agency (http://www.esa-cci.org/). The two unknown reviewers are thanked for constructive comments.

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Correspondence to Kimmo Ruosteenoja.

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Ruosteenoja, K., Markkanen, T., Venäläinen, A. et al. Seasonal soil moisture and drought occurrence in Europe in CMIP5 projections for the 21st century. Clim Dyn 50, 1177–1192 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-017-3671-4

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