Simulation of soil temperature under maize: An inter-comparison among 33 maize models

Bruce A. Kimball, Kelly R. Thorp, Kenneth J. Boote, Claudio Stockle, Andrew E. Suyker, Steven R. Evett, David K. Brauer, Gwen G. Coyle, Karen S. Copeland, Gary W. Marek, Paul D. Colaizzi, Marco Acutis, Sotirios Archontoulis, Faye Babacar, Zoltán Barcza, Bruno Basso, Patrick Bertuzzi, Massimiliano De Antoni Migliorati, Benjamin Dumont, Jean Louis DurandNándor Fodor, Thomas Gaiser, Sebastian Gayler, Robert Grant, Kaiyu Guan, Gerrit Hoogenboom, Qianjing Jiang, Soo Hyung Kim, Isaya Kisekka, Jon Lizaso, Alessia Perego, Bin Peng, Eckart Priesack, Zhiming Qi, Vakhtang Shelia, Amit Kumar Srivastava, Dennis Timlin, Heidi Webber, Tobias Weber, Karina Williams, Michelle Viswanathan, Wang Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accurate simulation of soil temperature can help improve the accuracy of crop growth models by improving the predictions of soil processes like seed germination, decomposition, nitrification, evaporation, and carbon sequestration. To assess how well such models can simulate soil temperature, herein we present results of an inter-comparison study of 33 maize (Zea mays L.) growth models. Among the 33 models, four of the modeling groups contributed results using differing algorithms or “flavors” to simulate evapotranspiration within the same overall model family. The study used comprehensive datasets from two sites - Mead, Nebraska, USA and Bushland, Texas, USA wherein soil temperature was measured continually at several depths. The range of simulated soil temperatures was large (about 10–15 °C) from the coolest to warmest models across whole growing seasons from bare soil to full canopy and at both shallow and deeper depths. Within model families, there were no significant differences among their simulations of soil temperature due to their differing evapotranspiration method “flavors”, so root-mean-square-errors (RMSE) were averaged within families, which reduced the number of soil temperature model families to 13. The model family RMSEs averaged over all 20 treatment-years and 2 depths ranged from about 1.5 to 5.1 °C. The six models with the lowest RMSEs were APSIM, ecosys, JULES, Expert-N, SLFT, and MaizSim. Five of these best models used a numerical iterative approach to simulate soil temperature, which entailed using an energy balance on each soil layer. whereby the change in heat storage during a time step equals the difference between the heat flow into and that out of the layer. Further improvements in the best models for simulating soil temperature might be possible with the incorporation of more recently improved routines for simulating soil thermal conductivity than the older routines now in use by the models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110003
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - 15 May 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Crop models
  • Maize
  • Prediction
  • Simulation
  • Soil heat flux
  • Soil temperature


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