Journal cover Journal topic
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 4869-4884, 2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
06 Dec 2013
Should we use a simple or complex model for moisture recycling and atmospheric moisture tracking?
R. J. van der Ent1, O. A. Tuinenburg2,*, H.-R. Knoche3, H. Kunstmann3,4, and H. H. G. Savenije1 1Department of Water Management, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, P.O. Box 5048, 2600GA Delft, the Netherlands
2Earth System Science and Climate Change Group, Wageningen University and Research Centre, P.O. Box 9101, 6700HB Wageningen, the Netherlands
3Interaction Climate-Atmosphere Department, Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research – Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Kreuzeckbahnstraße 19, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
4Department of Geography, Augsburg University, Universitätsstraße 10, 86159 Augsburg, Germany
*now at: Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, IPSL/CNRS/UPMC, 4, place Jussieu, 75252 Paris Cedex 05, France
Abstract. This paper compares state-of-the-art atmospheric moisture tracking models. Such models are typically used to study the water component of coupled land and atmosphere models, in particular quantifying moisture recycling and the source-sink relations between evaporation and precipitation. There are several atmospheric moisture tracking methods in use. However, depending on the level of aggregation, the assumptions made and the level of detail, the performance of these methods may differ substantially. In this paper, we compare three methods. The RCM-tag method uses highly accurate 3-D water tracking (including phase transitions) directly within a regional climate model (online), while the other two methods (WAM and 3D-T) use a posteriori (offline) water vapour tracking. The original version of WAM is a single-layer model, while 3D-T is a multi-layer model, but both make use the "well-mixed" assumption for evaporation and precipitation. The a posteriori models are faster and more flexible, but less accurate than online moisture tracking with RCM-tag. In order to evaluate the accuracy of the a posteriori models, we tagged evaporated water from Lake Volta in West Africa and traced it to where it precipitates. It is found that the strong wind shear in West Africa is the main cause of errors in the a posteriori models. The number of vertical layers and the initial release height of tagged water in the model are found to have the most significant influences on the results. With this knowledge small improvements have been made to the a posteriori models. It appeared that expanding WAM to a 2-layer model, or a lower release height in 3D-T, led to significantly better results. Finally, we introduced a simple metric to assess wind shear globally and give recommendations about when to use which model. The "best" method, however, very much depends on the research question, the spatial extent under investigation, as well as the available computational power.

Citation: van der Ent, R. J., Tuinenburg, O. A., Knoche, H.-R., Kunstmann, H., and Savenije, H. H. G.: Should we use a simple or complex model for moisture recycling and atmospheric moisture tracking?, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 4869-4884, doi:10.5194/hess-17-4869-2013, 2013.
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