A surface temperature and moisture intercomparison study of the Weather Research and Forecasting model, in-situ measurements and satellite observations over the Atacama Desert

Ricardo Fonseca*, María-Paz Zorzano-Mier, Armando Azua-Bustos, Carlos González-Silva, Javier Martín-Torres

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract 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°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°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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2202-2220
Number of pages19
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number722
Early online date20 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to t hank the High PerformanceComputing Center Nor th (HPC2N) for providing the com-puter resources needed to perform the numerical simula-tions presented in this paper. The MODIS C11 data productwas retrieved from the online Data Pool, courtesy of theNASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center(LP DAAC), United States Geological Survey (USGS)/EarthResources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, SiouxFalls, South Dakota (https://lpdaac.usgs.gov/data_access/data_pool). This project received seed funding from the DubaiFuture Foundation through the Guaana.com open researchplatform (MBR023). We would like to thank three anony-mous reviewers for their detailed and insightful commentsand suggestions that helped to improve the quality of thepape


  • field campaigns < 1. Tools and methods
  • geophysical sphere
  • local or boundary layer scale < 2. Scale, Dryland/desert < 4
  • regional and mesoscale modelling < 1. Tools and methods
  • remote sensing < 1. Tools and methods
  • tropics < 5. Geographic/climatic zone
  • Scale,Dryland/desert
  • Geographic/climatic zone


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