EGU23-2816, updated on 22 Feb 2023
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Root zone soil moisture in over 25 % of global land permanently beyond pre-industrial variability as early as 2050

En Ning Lai1, Lan Wang-Erlandsson2, Vili Virkki3, Miina Porkka3, and Ruud van der Ent1
En Ning Lai et al.
  • 1Department of Water Management, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands (
  • 2Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm Sweden
  • 3Water and Development Research Group, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland

Root-zone soil moisture is a key variable representing water cycle dynamics that strongly interacts with ecohydrological, atmospheric, and biogeochemical processes. Recently, it was proposed as the control variable for the green water planetary boundary, suggesting that widespread and considerable deviations from baseline variability now predispose Earth System functions critical to an agriculture-based civilisation to destabilization. However, the global extent and severity of root-zone soil moisture changes under future scenarios remains to be scrutinized. Here, we analyzed root-zone soil moisture departures from the pre-industrial climate variability for a multi-model ensemble of 14 Earth System Models (ESMs) in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) in four climate scenarios as defined by the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP), SSP1-2.6, SSP2-4.5, SSP3-7.0, and SSP5-8.5, between 2021 and 2100. The analyses were done for 43 ice-free climate reference regions used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).We defined ‘permanent departures’ when a region’s soil moisture exits the regional variability envelope of the pre-industrial climate and does not fall back into the range covered by the baseline envelope until 2100. Permanent dry departures (i.e. lower soil moisture than pre-industrial variability) were found to be most pronounced in Central America, southern Africa, the Mediterranean region, and most of South America, whereas permanent wet departures are most pronounced in southeastern South America, northern Africa, and southern Asia. In the Mediterranean region, dry permanent departure may have already happened according to some models. By 2100, there is dry permanent departures in theMediterranean in 70%of the ESMs in SSP1-2.6, the most mitigated situation, and more than 90% in SSP3-7.0 and SSP5-8.5, the medium-high and worst-case scenarios. Northeastern Africa is projected to experience wet permanent departures in 64% of the ESMs under SSP1-2.6, and 93% under SSP5-8.5. The percentage of ice-free land area with departures increases in all SSP scenarios as time goes by. Wet departures are more widespread than dry departures throughout the studied timeframe, except in SSP1-2.6. In most regions, the severity of the departures increases with the severity of global warming. In 2050, permanent departures (ensemble median) occur in about 10% of global ice-free land areas in SSP1-2.6, and in 25% in SSP3-7.0. By the end of the 21st century, the occurrence of permanent departures in SSP1-2.6 increases to 34 %, and in SSP3-7.0, 45 %. Our findings underscore the importance of mitigation to avoid further degrading the Earth System functions upheld by soil moisture. An asscociate paper is available as preprint on EGUsphere:

How to cite: Lai, E. N., Wang-Erlandsson, L., Virkki, V., Porkka, M., and van der Ent, R.: Root zone soil moisture in over 25 % of global land permanently beyond pre-industrial variability as early as 2050, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-2816,, 2023.

Supplementary materials

Supplementary material file