Natural Resources, School of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Journal of Hydrology 190 (1997) 269-301


This article is a U.S. government work, and is not subject to copyright in the United States.


It is commonly assumed that biophysically based soil-vegetation-atmosphere transfer (SVAT) models are scale-invariant with respect to the initial boundary conditions of topography, vegetation condition and soil moisture. In practice, SV AT models that have been developed and tested at the local scale (a few meters or a few tens of meters) are applied almost unmodified within general circulation models (GCMs) of the atmosphere, which have grid areas of 50-500 kIn2• This study, which draws much of its substantive material from the papers of Sellers et al. (l992c, J. Geophys. Res., 97(Dl7): 19033-19060) and Sellers et al. (1995, J. Geophys. Res., lOO(Dl2): 25607-25629), explores the validity of doing this. The work makes use of the FlFE-89 data set which was collected over a 2 km x 15 kIn grassland area in Kansas. The site was characterized by high variability in soil moisture and vegetation condition during the late growing season of 1989. The area also has moderate topography. The 2 kIn x 15 kIn 'testbed' area was divided into 68 x 501 pixels of 30 m x 30 m spatial resolution, each of which could be assigned topographic, vegetation condition and soil moisture parameters from satellite and in situ observations gathered in FlFE-89. One or more of these surface fields was area-averaged in a series of simulation runs to determine the impact of using large-area means of these initial or boundary conditions on the area-integrated (aggregated) surface fluxes. The results of the study can be summarized as follows: I. analyses and some of the simulations indicated that the relationships describing the effects of moderate topography on the surface radiation budget are near-linear and thus largely scaleinvariant. The relationships linking the simple ratio vegetation index (SR), the canopy conductance parameter (V F) and the canopy transpiration flux are also near-linear and similarly scaleinvariant to first order. Because of this, it appears that simple area-averaging operations can be applied to these fields with relatively little impact on the calculated surface heat flux. 2. The relationships linking surface and root-zone soil wetness to the soil surface and canopy transpiration rates are non-linear. However, simulation results and observations indicate that soil moisture variability decreases significantly as an area dries out, which partially cancels out the effects of these non-linear functions. In conclusion, it appears that simple averages of topographic slope and vegetation parameters can be used to calculate surface energy and heat fluxes over a wide range of spatial scales, from a few meters up to many kilometers at least for grassland sites and areas with moderate topography. Although the relationships between soil moisture and evapotranspiration are non-linear for intermediate soil wetnesses, the dynamics of soil c\rying act to progressively reduce soil moisture variability and thus the impacts of these non-linearities on the area-averaged surface fluxes. These findings indicate that we may be able to use mean values of topography, vegetation condition and soil moisture to calculate the surface-atmosphere fluxes of energy, heat and moisture at larger length scales, to within an acceptable accuracy for climate modeling work. However, further tests over areas with different vegetation types, soils and more extreme topography are required to improve our confidence in this approach.