Using Machine Learning with Partial Dependence Analysis to Investigate
Coupling Between Soil Moisture and Near-surface Temperature
Soil moisture influences near-surface air temperature by partitioning downwelling radiation into latent and sensible heat fluxes, through which dry soils generally lead to higher temperatures. The strength of this coupled soil moisture-temperature (SM-T) relationship is not spatially uniform, and numerous methods have been developed to assess SM-T coupling strength across the globe. These methods tend to involve either idealized climate-model experiments or linear statistical methods which cannot fully capture nonlinear SM-T coupling. In this study, we propose a nonlinear machine learning-based approach for analyzing SM-T coupling and apply this method to various mid-latitude regions using historical reanalysis datasets. We first train convolutional neural networks (CNNs) to predict daily maximum near-surface air temperature (TMAX) given daily SM and geopotential height fields. We then use partial dependence analysis to isolate the average sensitivity of each CNN’s TMAX prediction to the SM input under daily atmospheric conditions. The resulting SM-T relationships broadly agree with previous assessments of SM-T coupling strength. Over many regions, we find nonlinear relationships between the CNN’s TMAX prediction and the SM input map. These nonlinearities suggest that the coupled interactions governing SM-T relationships vary under different SM conditions, but these variations are regionally dependent. We also apply this method to test the influence of SM memory on SM-T coupling and find that our results are consistent with previous studies. Although our study focuses specifically on local SM-T coupling, our machine learning-based method can be extended to investigate other coupled interactions within the climate system using observed or model-derived datasets.