Soil structure is an important omission in Earth System Models

Fatichi, Simone and OR, Dani and Walko, Robert and Vereecken, Harry and Young, Michael H. and Ghezzehei, Teamrat A. and Hengl, Tomislav and Kollet, Stefan and Agam, Nurit and Avissar, Roni

Nature Communications, vol. 11, pp. 522 , 2020.

Abstract

Most soil hydraulic information used in Earth System Models (ESMs) is derived from pedo-transfer functions that use easy-to-measure soil attributes to estimate hydraulic parameters. This parameterization relies heavily on soil texture, but overlooks the critical role of soil structure originated by soil biophysical activity. Soil structure omission is pervasive also in sampling and measurement methods used to train pedotransfer functions. Here we show how systematic inclusion of salient soil structural features of biophysical origin affect local and global hydrologic and climatic responses. Locally, including soil structure in models significantly alters infiltration-runoff partitioning and recharge in wet and vegetated regions. Globally, the coarse spatial resolution of ESMs and their inability to simulate intense and short rainfall events mask effects of soil structure on surface fluxes and climate. Results suggest that although soil structure affects local hydrologic response, its implications on global-scale climate remains elusive in current ESMs.