Temporal Characteristics and Atmospheric Drivers of Onsets and Terminations of Soil Moisture Droughts in Europe
Abstract. Many studies have focused on understanding the drivers of soil moisture droughts in Europe when the events have already intensified. Still, how atmospheric circulation changes throughout the entire life cycle of droughts, particularly during the transition periods to drought initiation and termination, has not been thoroughly investigated. Therefore, this study investigates temporal characteristics and atmospheric circulation associated with onsets (a transition period from a normal condition to drought) and terminations (a transition period from drought to a normal condition) of soil moisture droughts in Europe during 1980–2020. The typical duration, preferred seasons of occurrence, and atmospheric circulation during onsets and terminations are examined. The regions of study are central (CEU) and Mediterranean (MED) Europe, and soil moisture from ERA5-Land, GLEAM version 3, SoMo.ml, Noah-LSM, and a simulation from the Community Land Model version 5 (CLM-TRENDY) are utilized.
Our findings indicate that the duration of onsets and terminations depends on the dataset: the five soil moisture datasets exhibit different mean duration of onsets and terminations, with ERA5-Land showing shorter and GLEAM longer duration across Europe. Nevertheless, within the same dataset, onsets and terminations exhibit similar durations, implying that onsets and terminations can occur at the same speed. Regarding the preferred seasons for onsets and terminations, onsets occur more during the wet seasons, specifically summer in CEU and autumn and winter in MED. Nevertheless, the frequencies of occurrence during these seasons only slightly exceed that during other seasons. Terminations tend to occur more during the driest seasons. For atmospheric circulation, onsets come with large-scale anticyclonic atmospheric circulation patterns. Terminations do not exhibit a dominant mean circulation pattern over the region where terminations occur but instead show geopotential height anomalies with reduced magnitudes in Europe and a high-pressure system over the North Atlantic. The anticyclonic circulation during onsets is anomalously persistent and shows linkages with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Positive NAO occurs much more frequently during onsets compared to other drought phases. This finding implies an important role for this large-scale mode of variability in initiating dry periods by reducing soil moisture and its potential to serve as an early warning for droughts during the period prior to the events.
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