Solander, K. C., Newman, B. D., Carioca de Aruajo, A., Barnard, H. R., Berry, Z. C., Bonal, D., Bretfeld, M., Burban, B., Antonio Candido, L., Célleri, R., Chambers, J. Q., Christoffersen, B. O., Detto, M., Dorigo, W. A., Ewers, B. E., José Filgueiras Ferreira, S., Knohl, A., Leung, L. R., McDowell, N. G., Miller, G. R., Terezinha Ferreira Monteiro, M., Moore, G. W., Negron-Juarez, R., Saleska, S. R., Stiegler, C., Tomasella, J., and Xu, C. (In Press) The pan-tropical response of soil moisture to El Niño, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-535.
The 2015–16 El Niño event ranks as one of the most severe on record in terms of the magnitude and extent of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies generated in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Corresponding global impacts on the climate were expected to rival, or even surpass, those of the 1997–98 severe El Niño event, which had SST anomalies that were similar in size. However, the 2015–16 event failed to meet expectations for hydrologic change in many areas, including those expected to receive well above normal precipitation. To better understand how climate anomalies during an El Niño event impact soil moisture, we investigate changes in soil moisture in the humid tropics (between ±25°) during the three most recent super El Niño events of 1982–83, 1997–98, and 2015–16, using data from the Global Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS). First, we validate the soil moisture estimates from GLDAS through comparison with in-situ observations obtained from 16 sites across five continents, showing an r2 of 0.54. Next, we apply a k-means cluster analysis to the soil moisture estimates during the El Niño mature phase, resulting in four groups of clustered data. The strongest and most consistent decreases in soil moisture occur in the Amazon basin and maritime southeast Asia, while the most consistent increases occur over east Africa. In addition, we compare changes in soil moisture to both precipitation and evapotranspiration, which showed a lack of agreement in the direction of change between these variables and soil moisture most prominently in the southern Amazon basin, Sahel and mainland southeast Asia. Our results can be used to improve estimates of spatiotemporal differences in El Niño impacts on soil moisture in tropical hydrology and ecosystem models at multiple scales.