Soil surface temperature is a critical boundary condition for the simulation of soil temperature by environmental models. It is influenced by atmospheric and soil conditions and by vegetation cover. In sophisticated land surface models, it is simulated iteratively by solving surface energy budget equations. In ecosystem, permafrost, and hydrology models, the consideration of soil surface temperature is generally simple. In this study, we developed a methodology for representing the effects of vegetation cover and atmospheric factors on the estimation of soil surface temperature for alpine grassland ecosystems on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Our approach integrated measurements from meteorological stations with simulations from a sophisticated land surface model to develop an equation set for estimating soil surface temperature. After implementing this equation set into an ecosystem model and evaluating the performance of the ecosystem model in simulating soil temperature at different depths in the soil profile, we applied the model to simulate interactions among vegetation cover, freeze-thaw cycles, and soil erosion to demonstrate potential applications made possible through the implementation of the methodology developed in this study. Results showed that (1) to properly estimate daily soil surface temperature, algorithms should use air temperature, downward solar radiation, and vegetation cover as independent variables; (2) the equation set developed in this study performed better than soil surface temperature algorithms used in other models; and (3) the ecosystem model performed well in simulating soil temperature throughout the soil profile using the equation set developed in this study. Our application of the model indicates that the representation in ecosystem models of the effects of vegetation cover on the simulation of soil thermal dynamics has the potential to substantially improve our understanding of the vulnerability of alpine grassland ecosystems to changes in climate and grazing regimes.


Yi, S., N. Li, B. Xiang, X. Wang, B. Ye, and A.D. McGuire. 2013. Representing the effects of alpine grassland vegetation cover on the simulation of soil thermal dynamics by ecosystem models applied to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. 118(3): 1186-1199. DOI: doi: 10.1002/jgrg.20093.