Atmospheric Aridity and Apparent Soil Moisture Drought in European Forest During Heat Waves

Eva M. Lansu, C.C. van Heerwaarden, Annemiek I. Stegehuis, Adriaan J. Teuling*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Land-atmosphere feedbacks, in particular the response of land evaporation to vapor pressure deficit (VPD) or the dryness of the air, remain poorly understood. Here we investigate the VPD response by analysis of a large database of eddy covariance flux observations and simulations using a conceptual model of the atmospheric boundary layer. Data analysis reveals that under high VPD and corresponding high temperatures, forest in particular reduces evaporation and emits more sensible heat. In contrast, grass increases evaporation and emits less sensible heat. Simulations show that this VPD feedback can induce significant temperature increases over forest of up to 2 K during heat wave conditions. It is inferred from the simulations that the effect of the VPD feedback corresponds to an apparent soil moisture depletion of more than 50%. This suggests that previous studies may have incorrectly attributed the effects of atmospheric aridity on temperature to soil dryness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020GL087091
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2020


  • apparent soil moisture drought
  • European forest
  • evapotranspiration
  • heat waves
  • land-atmosphere feedbacks
  • response to vapor pressure deficit


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