Atmospheric river

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NASA Image of the Day October 26, 2017 AR connecting Asia to NA. Cover Page of NCA4 NASA Atmospheric river AsiaNA2017 10 26.jpg
NASA Image of the Day October 26, 2017 AR connecting Asia to NA. Cover Page of NCA4

An atmospheric river (AR) is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere. Atmospheric rivers consist of narrow bands of enhanced water vapor transport, typically along the boundaries between large areas of divergent surface air flow, including some frontal zones in association with extratropical cyclones that form over the oceans. [1] [2] [3] [4] Pineapple Express storms are the most commonly represented and recognized type of atmospheric rivers; they are given the name due to the warm water vapor plumes originating over the Hawaiian tropics that follow a path towards California. [5] [6]

Atmosphere The layer of gases surrounding an astronomical body held by gravity

An atmosphere is a layer or a set of layers of gases surrounding a planet or other material body, that is held in place by the gravity of that body. An atmosphere is more likely to be retained if the gravity it is subject to is high and the temperature of the atmosphere is low.

Water vapor gaseous phase of water; unlike other forms of water, water vapor is invisible

Water vapor, water vapour or aqueous vapor is the gaseous phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Unlike other forms of water, water vapor is invisible. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously generated by evaporation and removed by condensation. It is less dense than air and triggers convection currents that can lead to clouds.

Weather front boundary separating two masses of air of different densities

A weather front is a boundary separating two masses of air of different densities, and is the principal cause of meteorological phenomena outside the tropics. In surface weather analyses, fronts are depicted using various colored triangles and half-circles, depending on the type of front. The air masses separated by a front usually differ in temperature and humidity.

Contents

Description

Layered precipitable water imagery of particularly strong atmospheric rivers on 5 December 2015. DesmondAtmosphericRiver.png
Layered precipitable water imagery of particularly strong atmospheric rivers on 5 December 2015.

The term was originally coined by researchers Reginald Newell and Yong Zhu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s, to reflect the narrowness of the moisture plumes involved. [1] [3] [7] Atmospheric rivers are typically several thousand kilometers long and only a few hundred kilometers wide, and a single one can carry a greater flux of water than the Earth's largest river, the Amazon River. [2] There are typically 3–5 of these narrow plumes present within a hemisphere at any given time.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology University in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. It has since played a key role in the development of many aspects of modern science, engineering, and mathematics, and is widely known for its innovation and academic strength, making it one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world. The Institute is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university, with an urban campus that extends more than a mile alongside the Charles River.

Amazon River longest river in South America

The Amazon River in South America is the largest river by discharge volume of water in the world, and by some definitions it is the longest.

In the current research field of atmospheric rivers the length and width factors described above in conjunction with an integrated water vapor depth greater than 2.0 cm are used as standards to categorize atmospheric river events. [6] [8] [9] [10]

A January 2019 article in Geophysical Research Letters described them as "long, meandering plumes of water vapor often originating over the tropical oceans that bring sustained, heavy precipitation to the west coasts of North America and northern Europe" that cause rainfall throughout the winter months." [11]

<i>Geophysical Research Letters</i> journal

Geophysical Research Letters is a biweekly peer-reviewed scientific journal of geoscience published by the American Geophysical Union that was established in 1974. The editor-in-chief is Noah Diffenbaugh.

As data modeling techniques progress, integrated water vapor transport (IVT) is becoming a more common data type used to interpret atmospheric rivers. Its strength lies in its ability to show the transportation of water vapor over multiple time steps instead of a stagnant measurement of water vapor depth in a specific air column (IWV). In addition IVT is more directly attributed to orographic precipitation, a key factor in the production of intense rainfall and subsequent flooding. [10] For instance the water vapor image to the left shows two rivers on 5 December 2015: the first, stretching from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom, caused by Storm Desmond, and the second originating from the Philippines is crossing Pacific Ocean to the west coast of North America.

Caribbean region to the center-east of America composed of many islands and of coastal regions of continental countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean is a region of The Americas that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom (UK), officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and sometimes referred to as Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Storm Desmond windstorm

Storm Desmond was an extratropical cyclone and fourth named storm of the 2015–16 UK and Ireland windstorm season, notable for directing a plume of moist air, known as an atmospheric river, which brought record amounts of orographic rainfall to upland areas of northern Atlantic Europe and subsequent major floods.

Scale

The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography released a five-level scale in February 2019 to categorize atmospheric rivers, ranging from "weak" to "exceptional" in strength, or "beneficial" to "hazardous" in impact. The scale was developed by F. Martin Ralph, director of CW3E, who collaborated with Jonathan Rutz from the National Weather Service and other experts. [13] The scale considers both the amount of water vapor transported and the duration of the event. Atmospheric rivers receive a preliminary rank according to the 3-hour average maximum vertically integrated water vapor transport. Those lasting less than 24 hours are demoted by one rank, while those lasting longer than 48 hours are increased by one rank. [12]

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Center for ocean and Earth science research

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, founded in 1903, is one of the oldest and largest centers for ocean and Earth science research, public service, undergraduate and graduate training in the world. Hundreds of ocean and Earth scientists conduct research with the aid of oceanographic research vessels and shorebased laboratories. Its Old Scripps Building is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. SIO is a division of the University of California San Diego (UCSD). The public explorations center of the institution is the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Since becoming part of the University of California in 1912, the institution has expanded its scope to include studies of the physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and climate of Earth.

National Weather Service United States weather agency

The National Weather Service (NWS) is an agency of the United States federal government that is tasked with providing weather forecasts, warnings of hazardous weather, and other weather-related products to organizations and the public for the purposes of protection, safety, and general information. It is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) branch of the Department of Commerce, and is headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, within the Washington metropolitan area. The agency was known as the United States Weather Bureau from 1890 until it adopted its current name in 1970.

Examples of different atmospheric river categories include the following historical storms: [13] [14]

  1. February 2, 2017; lasted 24 hours
  2. November 19–20, 2016; lasted 42 hours
  3. October 14–15, 2016; lasted 36 hours and produced 5–10 inches of rainfall
  4. January 8–9, 2017; lasted 36 hours and produced 14 inches of rainfall
  5. December 29, 1996 – January 2, 1997; lasted 100 hours and caused >$1 billion in damage

Typically, the Oregon coast averages one Cat 4 atmospheric river (AR) each year; Washington state averages one Cat 4 AR every two years; the Bay Area averages one Cat 4 AR every three years; and southern California, which typically experiences one Cat 2 or Cat 3 AR each year, averages one Cat 4 AR every ten years. [14]

Impacts

Atmospheric rivers have a central role in the global water cycle. On any given day, atmospheric rivers account for over 90% of the global meridional (north-south) water vapor transport, yet they cover less than 10% of the Earth's circumference. [2] Atmospheric rivers are also known to contribute to about 22% of total global runoff. [15]

They also are the major cause of extreme precipitation events that cause severe flooding in many mid-latitude, westerly coastal regions of the world, including the West Coast of North America, [16] [17] [18] [8] Western Europe, [19] [20] [21] the west coast of North Africa, [3] the Iberian Peninsula, Iran and New Zealand. [15] Equally, the absence of atmospheric rivers has been linked with the occurrence of droughts in several parts of the world including South Africa, Spain and Portugal. [15]

United States

Water vapor imagery of the eastern Pacific Ocean from the GOES 11 satellite, showing a large atmospheric river aimed across California in December 2010. This particularly intense storm system produced as much as 26 in (66 cm) of precipitation in California and up to 17 ft (520 cm) of snowfall in the Sierra Nevada during December 17-22, 2010. Atmospheric River GOES WV 20101220.1200.goes11.vapor.x.pacus.x.jpg
Water vapor imagery of the eastern Pacific Ocean from the GOES 11 satellite, showing a large atmospheric river aimed across California in December 2010. This particularly intense storm system produced as much as 26 in (66 cm) of precipitation in California and up to 17 ft (520 cm) of snowfall in the Sierra Nevada during December 17–22, 2010.

The inconsistency of California's rainfall is due to the variability in strength and quantity of these storms, which can produce strenuous effects on California's water budget. The factors described above make California a perfect case study to show the importance of proper water management and prediction of these storms. [6] The significance atmospheric rivers have for the control of coastal water budgets juxtaposed against their creation of detrimental floods can be constructed and studied by looking at California and the surrounding coastal region of the western United States. In this region atmospheric rivers have contributed 30-50% of total annual rainfall according to a 2013 study. [22] The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) on November 23, 2018 [23] confirmed that along the U.S. western coast, landfalling atmospheric rivers "account for 30%–40% of precipitation and snowpack. These landfalling atmospheric rivers "are associated with severe flooding events in California and other western states." [5] [8] [24]

The USGCRP team of thirteen federal agencies—the DOA, DOC, DOD, DOE, HHS, DOI, DOS, DOT, EPA, NASA, NSF, Smithsonian Institution, and the USAID—with the assistance of "1,000 people, including 300 leading scientists, roughly half from outside the government" reported that, "As the world warms, the "landfalling atmospheric rivers on the West Coast are likely to increase" in "frequency and severity" because of "increasing evaporation and higher atmospheric water vapor levels in the atmosphere." [23] [25] [26] [27] [28]

Based on the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) analyses, a team led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Paul J. Neiman, concluded in 2011 that landfalling ARs were "responsible for nearly all the annual peak daily flow (APDF)s in western Washington" from 1998 through 2009. [29]

The front cover of the NCA4 report features a natural-color NASA image of conditions over the northeastern Pacific on February 20, 2017. The report said that this AR brought a "stunning" end to the American West's 5-year drought with "some parts of California received nearly twice as much rain in a single deluge as normally falls in the preceding 5 months (October–February)". NASA Earth Observatory's Jesse Allen created the front cover visualization with the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) data on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite. [30]

According to a May 14, 2019 article in San Jose, California's The Mercury News , atmospheric rivers, "giant conveyor belts of water in the sky", cause the moisture-rich "Pineapple express" storm systems that come from the Pacific Ocean several times annually and account for about 50 percent of California's annual precipitation. [31] University of California at San Diego's Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes's director Marty Ralph, who is one of the United State's experts on atmospheric river storms and has been active in AR research for many years, said that, atmospheric rivers are more common in winter. For example, from October 2018 to spring 2019, there were 47 atmospheric river, 12 of which were rated strong or extreme, in Washington, Oregon and California. The rare May 2019 atmospheric rivers, classified as Category 1 and Category 2, are beneficial in terms of preventing seasonal wildfires but the "swings between heavy rain and raging wildfires" are raising questions about moving from "understanding that the climate is changing to understanding what to do about it." [32]

Canada

According to a January 22, 2019 article in Geophysical Research Letters , the Fraser River Basin (FRB), a "snow-dominated watershed" [Notes 1] in British Columbia, is exposed to landfalling ARs, originating over the tropical Pacific ocean that bring "sustained, heavy precipitation" throughout the winter months. [11] The authors predict that based on their modelling "extreme rainfall events resulting from atmospheric rivers may lead to peak annual floods of historic proportions, and of unprecedented frequency, by the late 21st century in the Fraser River Basin." [11]

Satellites and sensors

According to a 2011 Eos magazine article [Notes 2] by 1998, the spatiotemporal coverage of water vapor data over oceans had vastly improved through the use of "microwave remote sensing from polar-orbiting satellites", such as the special sensor microwave/imager (SSM/I). This led to greatly increased attention to the "prevalence and role" of atmospheric rivers ARs. Prior to the use of these satellites and sensors, scientists were mainly dependent on weather balloons and other related technologies that did not adequately cover oceans. SSM/I and similar technologies, provide "frequent global measurements of Integrated Water Vapor (IWV) over the Earth’s oceans." [33] [34]


Notes

  1. According to the Curry et al article, "Snow-dominated watersheds are bellwethers of climate change."
  2. Eos, Transactions is published weekly by the American Geophysical Union and covers topics related to earth science.

See also

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Further reading