Moisture stress, mid-tropospheric pressure patterns, and the forest/grassland transition in the south central states


The climatic causes of the major forest/grassland ecotone in the south central United States (Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas) are still poorly understood. Grassland and forest vegetation types differ markedly in their ability to withstand water stress induced by vapor pressure deficit (VPD), the difference between saturation vapor pressure and actual vapor pressure in the atmosphere. VPD is an airmass characteristic induced by ambient temperatures higher than dewpoint temperature. Mean summer airmass movement is from the Gulf of Mexico onto the continent in the central states area, but mean VPD displays a strong gradient approximately parallel to the ecotone. A subset of days having the strongest VPD gradients across the ecotone also had a 500 mb pressure height pattern identical to the long-term mean (modal) pattern. This 500 mb pattern, with a ridge over the Rocky Mountains and a trough over the Great Lakes, induces subsidence, stability, warming, and high VPD in Great Plains airmasses. Farther east, away from the zone of maximum subsidence, VPD is much lower. The grassland region coincides with the area of highest VPD. Because of the importance of the daily configuration of mid-tropospheric windflow patterns in controlling the distribution of VPD, moisture, and precipitation, more frequent occurrence of the modal 500 mb pattern is one mechanism for the occurrence of drought. © 1982 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


Geography, Geology, and Planning

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Physical Geography