Evaluating the Community Land Model (CLM4.5) at a coniferous forest site in northwestern United States using flux and carbon-isotope measurements
Abstract. Droughts in the western United States are expected to intensify with climate change. Thus, an adequate representation of ecosystem response to water stress in land models is critical for predicting carbon dynamics. The goal of this study was to evaluate the performance of the Community Land Model (CLM) version 4.5 against observations at an old-growth coniferous forest site in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States (Wind River AmeriFlux site), characterized by a Mediterranean climate that subjects trees to water stress each summer. CLM was driven by site-observed meteorology and calibrated primarily using parameter values observed at the site or at similar stands in the region. Key model adjustments included parameters controlling specific leaf area and stomatal conductance. Default values of these parameters led to significant underestimation of gross primary production, overestimation of evapotranspiration, and consequently overestimation of photosynthetic 13C discrimination, reflected in reduced 13C : 12C ratios of carbon fluxes and pools. Adjustments in soil hydraulic parameters within CLM were also critical, preventing significant underestimation of soil water content and unrealistic soil moisture stress during summer. After calibration, CLM was able to simulate energy and carbon fluxes, leaf area index, biomass stocks, and carbon isotope ratios of carbon fluxes and pools in reasonable agreement with site observations. Overall, the calibrated CLM was able to simulate the observed response of canopy conductance to atmospheric vapor pressure deficit (VPD) and soil water content, reasonably capturing the impact of water stress on ecosystem functioning. Both simulations and observations indicate that stomatal response from water stress at Wind River was primarily driven by VPD and not soil moisture. The calibration of the Ball–Berry stomatal conductance slope (mbb) at Wind River aligned with findings from recent CLM experiments at sites characterized by the same plant functional type (needleleaf evergreen temperate forest), despite significant differences in stand composition and age and climatology, suggesting that CLM could benefit from a revised mbb value of 6, rather than the default value of 9, for this plant functional type. Conversely, Wind River required a unique calibration of the hydrology submodel to simulate soil moisture, suggesting that the default hydrology has a more limited applicability. This study demonstrates that carbon isotope data can be used to constrain stomatal conductance and intrinsic water use efficiency in CLM, as an alternative to eddy covariance flux measurements. It also demonstrates that carbon isotopes can expose structural weaknesses in the model and provide a key constraint that may guide future model development.