Evaluating climate and soil effects on regional soil moisture spatial variability using EOFs

Tiejun Wang, Trenton E. Franz, Ruopu Li, Jinsheng You, Martha D. Shulski, Chittaranjan Ray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Soil moisture is an important state variable in terrestrial water cycles; however, only few studies are available on regional soil moisture spatial variability (SMSV), which yielded inconsistent findings about regional controls on SMSV. Here, long-term soil moisture data were obtained from the Automated Weather Data Network and Soil Climate Analysis Network in three regions with different climate regimes across the continental U.S. Comprehensive data sets were compiled to examine regional controls on SMSV using the method of Empirical Orthogonal Function. One dominant spatial structure (EOF1) of soil moisture was found in the study regions, which explained over 75%, 67%, and 86% of the spatial variance in soil moisture in Nebraska, Utah, and the Southeast U.S., respectively. Despite the significant spatial variability in precipitation and potential evapotranspiration in all the study regions, the results showed that meteorological forcings had limited effects on regional SMSV in those regions with different climatic conditions, which differed from the traditional notion that SMSV is mainly controlled by meteorological forcings at the scale from 50 to 400 km. Instead, local factors related to soil (e.g., sand and clay fractions) were found to have significant correlations with EOF1, although the effects of other local factors (e.g., topography and vegetation) were generally negligible. This study provides strong field evidence that soil can exert much stronger impacts on regional SMSV than previously thought, which can override the effects of meteorological forcings. Future studies are still needed to elaborate on the relative roles of climate and soil in affecting regional SMSV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4022-4035
Number of pages14
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • AWDN
  • Empirical Orthogonal Function
  • SCAN
  • regional scale
  • soil moisture
  • spatial pattern

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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