About Our Work

COLA Land Group

The original incarnation of COLA was established in 1983. It was the first research center to acknowledge and address explicitly the role of the land surface in climate predictability and prediction. Since then, COLA has been a global leader in all aspects of the land-atmosphere system, conducting original research and establishing collaborations on five continents.

Computer Modeling

COLA pioneered the inclusion of full-featured land surface models as integral components of weather and climate forecast models. The COLA Land Group led two phases of the Global Soil Wetness Project, which established the process of global uncoupled land modeling used worldwide to generate initial conditions for forecast models. The Land Group also anchored the  project that established the existence of "hot spots" of land-atmosphere coupling, coordinating data from a dozen modeling centers around the world, leading to a landmark paper in the journal Science. The Land Group has conducted multiple modeling studies establishing the importance of soil moisture as a driver of weather and climate extremes like heat-waves and droughts, and as a climate predictor more important in many locations than El Niño.


Ironically, although we all live on land, the states of soil moisture, snow mass and vegetation properties historically have been poorly observed, compared to the atmosphere and ocean. The COLA Land Group pioneered multi-model methods to generate robust global analyses of soil moisture that are higher quality than single models can supply. The Land Group also developed methods to use both in situ and satellite measurements to validate land and coupled land-atmosphere models. Today, the Land Group is leading the effort to apply methods from Information Theory to more thoroughly characterize and understand the interactions between land and atmosphere on a global scale.


The COLA Land Group has been integral in the development of the current theory of land-atmosphere interaction operating as a network of physical process chains intertwining the global water and energy cycles. The Global Energy and Water Exchanges (GEWEX) project of the World Climate Research Programme has become the home of such research, and the Land Group helped charter GEWEX's Land-Atmosphere System Study to foster theoretical advances. The International GEWEX Project Office is now housed with COLA at George Mason University.