National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Journal of Hydrology (2012),


A land surface model’s ability to simulate states (e.g., soil moisture) and fluxes (e.g., runoff) is limited by uncertainties in meteorological forcing and parameter inputs as well as inadequacies in model physics. In this study, anomalies of terrestrial water storage (TWS) observed by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission were assimilated into the NASA Catchment land surface model in western and central Europe for a 7-year period, using a previously developed ensemble Kalman smoother. GRACE data assimilation led to improved runoff estimates (in temporal correlation and root mean square error) in 17 out of 18 hydrological basins, even in basins smaller than the effective resolution of GRACE. Improvements in root zone soil moisture were less conclusive, partly due to the shortness of the in situ data record. GRACE data assimilation also had significant impacts in groundwater estimates including trend and seasonality. In addition to improving temporal correlations, GRACE data assimilation also reduced increasing trends in simulated monthly TWS and runoff associated with increasing rates of precipitation. The assimilation downscaled (in space and time) and disaggregated GRACE data into finer scale components of TWS which exhibited significant changes in their dryness rankings relative to those without data assimilation, suggesting that GRACE data assimilation could have a substantial impact on drought monitoring. Signals of drought in GRACE TWS correlated well with MODIS Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data in most areas. Although they detected the same droughts during warm seasons, drought signatures in GRACE derived TWS exhibited greater persistence than those in NDVI throughout all seasons, in part due to limitations associated with the seasonality of vegetation. Mass imbalances associated with GRACE data assimilation and challenges of using GRACE data for drought monitoring are discussed.