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Playa Soil Moisture and Evaporation Dynamics During the MATERHORN Field Program

Abstract

We present an analysis of field data collected over a desert playa in western Utah, USA in May 2013, the most synoptically active month of the year, as part of the Mountain Terrain Atmospheric Modeling and Observations (MATERHORN) program. The results show that decreasing surface albedo, decreasing Bowen ratio and increasing net radiation with increasing soil moisture sustained a powerful positive feedback mechanism promoting large evaporation rates immediately following rain events. Additionally, it was found that, while nocturnal evaporation was negligible during dry periods, it was quite significant (up to 30 % of the daily cumulative flux) during nights following rain events. Our results further show that the highest spatial variability in surface soil moisture is found under dry conditions. Finally, we report strong spatial heterogeneities in evaporation rates following a rain event. The cumulative evaporation for the different sampling sites over a five-day period varied from \(\approx \)0.1 to \(\approx \)6.6 mm. Overall, this study allows us to better understand the mechanisms underlying soil moisture dynamics of desert playas as well as evaporation following occasional rain events.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the Office of Naval Research Award #N00014-11-1-0709, Mountain Terrain Atmospheric Modeling and Observations (MATERHORN) Program. The authors thank Daniel Alexander for his help with the finite difference model of the Richard’s equation used to compute soil moisture profiles. The authors are also grateful to Dr. Dragan Zajic, John Pace and Nipun Gunawardena whose contributions were critical to the success of the field measurements. We are also extremely grateful for all of the help in the field, and the scientific insight provided by the MATERHORN team, especially Prof. H.J.S. Fernando.

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Correspondence to Eric R. Pardyjak.

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Hang, C., Nadeau, D.F., Jensen, D.D. et al. Playa Soil Moisture and Evaporation Dynamics During the MATERHORN Field Program. Boundary-Layer Meteorol 159, 521–538 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10546-015-0058-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10546-015-0058-0

Keywords

  • Bare soil evaporation
  • Dry lake
  • Gravimetric method
  • Nocturnal evaporation
  • Spatial heterogeneity
  • Surface energy balance