Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Mahmood, R., Hubbard, K.G. 2004. An Analysis of Simulated Long-Term Soil Moisture Data for Three Land Uses Under Contrasting Hydroclimatic Conditions in the Northern Great Plains. Reprinted from: Journal of Hydrometeorology, Vol. 5, pg 160-179, 2004.



(c) 2004 American Meteorological Society. Used by permission.


Soil moisture (SM) plays an important role in land surface and atmosphere interactions. It modifies energy balance near the surface and the rate of water cycling between land and atmosphere. The lack of observed SM data prohibits understanding of SM variations at climate scales under varying land uses. However, with simulation models it is possible to develop a long-term SM dataset and study these issues.

In this paper a water balance model is used to provide a quantitative assessment of SM climatologies for three land uses, namely, irrigated corn, rain-fed corn, and grass, grown under three hydroclimatic regimes in Nebraska. These regimes are stops along an east–west decreasing precipitation gradient of the Great Plains. The simulated SM climatologies are provided for the root zone as a whole and for the five layers of the soil profile to a depth of 1.2 m. As expected, the soil water content in the root zone of irrigated corn was higher than rainfed corn or grass. The lowest levels of soil water depletion were found under rain-fed corn cultivation due to its complete reliance on naturally available SM. The annual total evapotranspiration (ET) was 34% and 36% higher for irrigated corn than for rain-fed corn and grass, respectively. The study suggests that due to interannual variability the SM variability is higher for deeper depths, as compared to near-surface depths. Growing season SM depletion and prevailing soil water content at various depths of the soil profile varies with crops, soils, and prevailing hydroclimatic conditions.

The results show that land use affects the magnitude of SM variability at all time scales. At a daily temporal scale, SM variability is less under irrigated land use and sharply increases under rain-fed land uses. At the monthly scale, SM variability largely follows the trend of the daily time scale. Year-to-year SM variability is significant. Extremely dry or wet conditions enhance and reduce, respectively, the forcing of land use on SM variability at an annual time scale. Thus, large-scale interannual climate variations and land use jointly affect SM variability at this scale.