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Columbia Engineering team makes major step in improving forecasts of weather extremes
Date:6/5/2011

ence is due to the humidity present in the atmosphere. The atmosphere over the western regions is so dry that no matter what the input of moisture via evaporation is from the surface, an added source of moisture will not trigger any rain since it will instantaneously dissipate into the atmosphere. The atmosphere over the eastern regions is sufficiently wet so that the added moisture from the surface evaporation will make it rain.

"If it starts getting really wet in the east," noted Gentine, "then the surface will trigger more rain so it becomes even moister, and this sets up a vicious cycle for floods and droughts. Nature i.e. the land surface and the vegetation cannot control the rainfall process in the west but it can in the east and in the south. This is really important in our understanding of the persistence of floods and droughts."

Consequently, once a flood or a drought is triggered by large-scale processes, such as sea surface temperature anomalies, the flood/drought conditions are most likely to persist in the eastern and southern U.S. But in the West, the duration and frequency of floods/droughts are controlled only by oceanic processes: the surface cannot modify the rainfall process. Whether the soil is dry or wet doesn't change subsequent rainfalls: consequently the surface will not help hydrological extremes persist (e.g. floods/droughts).

Gentine is developing a theoretical framework to understand the precipitation and cloud formation over land and says this should be an important breakthrough in our understanding of how soil moisture and vegetation controls cloud formation and the precipitation process. "I find this work fascinating because it's a great blend of theoretical research understanding how nature works and practical applications that affect our world like flood/drought/water management. My lab is right outside: observing clouds and precipitation!"


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Contact: Holly Evarts
holly@engineering.columbia.edu
212-854-3206
Columbia University
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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