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The impacts of climate change on the winter water cycle of the western Himalaya

Hunt, K., Turner, A. and Shaffrey, L. (2020) The impacts of climate change on the winter water cycle of the western Himalaya. Climate Dynamics, 55 (7-8). pp. 2287-2307. ISSN 0930-7575

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s00382-020-05383-3

Abstract/Summary

Some 180 million people depend on the Indus River as a key water resource, fed largely by precipitation falling over the western Himalaya. However, the projected response of western Himalayan precipitation to climate change is currently not well constrained: CMIP5 GCMs project a reduced frequency and vorticity of synoptic-scale systems impacting the area, but such systems would exist in a considerably moister atmosphere. In this study, a convection-permitting (4 km horizontal resolution) setup of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model is used to examine 40 cases of these synoptic-scale systems, known as western disturbances (WDs), as they interact with the western Himalaya. In addition to a present-day control run, three experiments are performed by perturbing the boundary and initial conditions to reflect pre-industrial, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 background climates respectively. It is found that in spite of the weakening intensity of WDs, net precipitation associated with them in future climate scenarios increases significantly; conversely there is no net change in precipitation between the pre-industrial and control experiments despite a significant conversion of snowfall in the pre-industrial experiment to rainfall in the control experiment, consistent with the changes seen in historical observations. This shift from snowfall to rainfall has profound consequences on water resource management in the Indus Valley, where irrigation is dependent on spring meltwater. Flux decomposition shows that the increase in future precipitation follows directly from the projected moistening of the tropical atmosphere (which increases the moisture flux incident on the western Himalaya by 28%) overpowering the weakened dynamics (which decreases it by 20%). Changes to extreme rainfall events are also examined: it is found that such events may increase significantly in frequency in both future scenarios examined. Two-hour maxima rainfall events that currently occur in 1-in-8 WDs are projected to increase tenfold in frequency in the RCP8.5 scenario; more prolonged (one-week maxima) events are projected to increase fiftyfold.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:91235
Publisher:Springer

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