Articles | Volume 18, issue 12
Research article
10 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 10 Dec 2014

Evaluation of root water uptake in the ISBA-A-gs land surface model using agricultural yield statistics over France

N. Canal, J.-C. Calvet, B. Decharme, D. Carrer, S. Lafont, and G. Pigeon

Abstract. The simulation of root water uptake in land surface models is affected by large uncertainties. The difficulty in mapping soil depth and in describing the capacity of plants to develop a rooting system is a major obstacle to the simulation of the terrestrial water cycle and to the representation of the impacts of drought. In this study, long time series of agricultural statistics are used to evaluate and constrain root water uptake models. The inter-annual variability of cereal grain yield and permanent grassland dry matter yield is simulated over France by the Interactions between Soil, Biosphere and Atmosphere, CO2-reactive (ISBA-A-gs) generic land surface model (LSM). The two soil profile schemes available in the model are used to simulate the above-ground biomass (Bag) of cereals and grasslands: a two-layer force–restore (FR-2L) bulk reservoir model and a multi-layer diffusion (DIF) model. The DIF model is implemented with or without deep soil layers below the root zone. The evaluation of the various root water uptake models is achieved by using the French agricultural statistics of Agreste over the 1994–2010 period at 45 cropland and 48 grassland départements, for a range of rooting depths. The number of départements where the simulated annual maximum Bag presents a significant correlation with the yield observations is used as a metric to benchmark the root water uptake models. Significant correlations (p value < 0.01) are found for up to 29 and 77% of the départements for cereals and grasslands, respectively. A rather neutral impact of the most refined versions of the model is found with respect to the simplified soil hydrology scheme. This shows that efforts should be made in future studies to reduce other sources of uncertainty, e.g. by using a more detailed soil and root density profile description together with satellite vegetation products. It is found that modelling additional subroot-zone base flow soil layers does not improve (and may even degrade) the representation of the inter-annual variability of the vegetation above-ground biomass. These results are particularly robust for grasslands, as calibrated simulations are able to represent the extreme 2003 and 2007 years corresponding to unfavourable and favourable fodder production, respectively.

Short summary
Regional French agricultural yield statistics are used to benchmark root water uptake representations in the ISBA-A-gs model. Key model parameters governing the inter-annual variability of the simulated biomass are retrieved. A complex multi-layer soil hydrology model does not outperform a simple bulk root-zone reservoir approach. This could be explained by missing processes/information in the model such as hydraulic redistribution and detailed soil properties.