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Simulating heat transport of harmonic temperature signals in the Earth's shallow subsurface: Lower-boundary sensitivities

Smerdon, Jason E.; Stieglitz, Marc

We assess the sensitivity of a subsurface thermodynamic model to the depth of its lower-boundary condition. Analytic solutions to the one-dimensional thermal diffusion equation demonstrate that boundary conditions imposed at shallow depths (2-20 m) corrupt the amplitudes and phases of propagating temperature signals. The presented solutions are for: 1) a homogeneous infinite half-space driven by a harmonic surface-temperature boundary condition, and 2) a homogeneous slab with a harmonic surface-temperature boundary condition and zero-flux lower-boundary condition. Differences between the amplitudes and phases of the two solutions range from 0 to almost 100%, depending on depth, frequency and subsurface thermophysical properties. The implications of our results are straightforward: the corruption of subsurface temperatures can affect model assessments of soil microbial activity, vegetation changes, freeze-thaw cycles, and hydrologic dynamics. It is uncertain, however, whether the reported effects will have large enough impacts on land-atmosphere fluxes of water and energy to affect atmospheric simulations.


Also Published In

Geophysical Research Letters

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
American Geophysical Union
Published Here
August 24, 2011