Articles | Volume 17, issue 23
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 14457–14471, 2017
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 14457–14471, 2017

Research article 06 Dec 2017

Research article | 06 Dec 2017

Modeling the contributions of global air temperature, synoptic-scale phenomena and soil moisture to near-surface static energy variability using artificial neural networks

Sara C. Pryor1, Ryan C. Sullivan1, and Justin T. Schoof2 Sara C. Pryor et al.
  • 1Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA
  • 2Department of Geography and Environmental Resource, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901, USA

Abstract. The static energy content of the atmosphere is increasing on a global scale, but exhibits important subglobal and subregional scales of variability and is a useful parameter for integrating the net effect of changes in the partitioning of energy at the surface and for improving understanding of the causes of so-called warming holes (i.e., locations with decreasing daily maximum air temperatures (T) or increasing trends of lower magnitude than the global mean). Further, measures of the static energy content (herein the equivalent potential temperature, θe) are more strongly linked to excess human mortality and morbidity than air temperature alone, and have great relevance in understanding causes of past heat-related excess mortality and making projections of possible future events that are likely to be associated with negative human health and economic consequences. New nonlinear statistical models for summertime daily maximum and minimum θe are developed and used to advance understanding of drivers of historical change and variability over the eastern USA. The predictor variables are an index of the daily global mean temperature, daily indices of the synoptic-scale meteorology derived from T and specific humidity (Q) at 850 and 500 hPa geopotential heights (Z), and spatiotemporally averaged soil moisture (SM). SM is particularly important in determining the magnitude of θe over regions that have previously been identified as exhibiting warming holes, confirming the key importance of SM in dictating the partitioning of net radiation into sensible and latent heat and dictating trends in near-surface T and θe. Consistent with our a priori expectations, models built using artificial neural networks (ANNs) out-perform linear models that do not permit interaction of the predictor variables (global T, synoptic-scale meteorological conditions and SM). This is particularly marked in regions with high variability in minimum and maximum θe, where more complex models built using ANN with multiple hidden layers are better able to capture the day-to-day variability in θe and the occurrence of extreme maximum θe. Over the entire domain, the ANN with three hidden layers exhibits high accuracy in predicting maximum θe > 347 K. The median hit rate for maximum θe > 347 K is  > 0.60, while the median false alarm rate is  ≈ 0.08.

Short summary
The air temperature and water vapor content are increasing globally due to the increased concentration of "heat-trapping" (greenhouse) gases. But not all regions are warming at the same rate. This analysis is designed to improve understanding of the causes of recent trends and year-to-year variability in summertime heat indices over the eastern US and to present a new model that can be used to make projections of future events that may cause loss of life and/or decreased human well-being.
Final-revised paper