A catchment-based approach to modeling land surface processes in a general circulation model: 1. Model structure


  • Randal D. Koster,

  • Max J. Suarez,

  • Agnès Ducharne,

  • Marc Stieglitz,

  • Praveen Kumar


A new strategy for modeling the land surface component of the climate system is described. The strategy is motivated by an arguable deficiency in most state-of-the-art land surface models, namely, the disproportionately higher emphasis given to the formulation of one-dimensional, vertical physics relative to the treatment of horizontal heterogeneity in surface properties, particularly subgrid soil moisture variability and its effects on runoff generation. The new strategy calls for the partitioning of the continental surface into a mosaic of hydrologic catchments, delineated through analysis of high-resolution surface elevation data. The effective “grid” used for the land surface is therefore not specified by the overlying atmospheric grid. Within each catchment, the variability of soil moisture is related to characteristics of the topography and to three bulk soil moisture variables through a well-established model of catchment processes. This modeled variability allows the partitioning of the catchment into several areas representing distinct hydrological regimes, wherein distinct (regime specific) evaporation and runoff parameterizations are applied. Care is taken to ensure that the deficiencies of the catchment model in regions of little to moderate topography are minimized.