Fonseca, R., Zorzano Mier, M. P., Azua Bustos, A., González Silva, C., Martín Torres, J. 2019. A surface temperature and moisture intercomparison study of the Weather Research and Forecasting model, in-situ measurements and satellite observations over the Atacama Desert. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Metodological Society 145, 722, 2202-2220 DOI: 10.1002/qj.3553
Good knowledge of the environmental conditions of deserts on Earth is relevant for climate studies. The Atacama Desert is of particular interest as it is considered to be the driest region on Earth. We have performed simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model over the Atacama Desert for two week-long periods in the austral winter season coincident with surface temperature and relative humidity in-situ observations at three sites. We found that the WRF model generally overestimates the daytime surface temperature, with biases of up to 11 degrees C, despite giving a good simulation of the relative humidity. In order to improve the agreement with observed measurements, we conducted sensitivity experiments in which the surface albedo, soil moisture content and five tuneable parameters in the Noah Land Surface Model (namely soil porosity, soil suction, saturated soil hydraulic conductivity, the b parameter used in hydraulic functions and the quartz fraction) are perturbed. We concluded that an accurate simulation is not possible, most likely because the Noah Land Surface Model does not have a groundwater table that may be shallow in desert regions. The WRF-predicted land surface temperature is also evaluated against that estimated from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument. While at night the satellite-derived and ground-based measurements are generally in agreement, during the day MODIS estimates are typically lower by as much as 17 degrees C. This is attributed to the large uncertainty in the MODIS-estimated land surface temperatures in arid and semi-arid regions. The findings of this work highlight the need for ground-based observational networks in remote regions such as the Atacama Desert where satellite-derived and model products may not be very accurate.