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Monsoon circulation interaction with Western Ghats orography under changing climate

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Rajendran K., Kitoh A., Srinivasan J., Mizuta R., Krishnan R.,
Project Global Change and Mountain Regions: the Mountain Research Initiative Coordination Office
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Theoretical and Applied Climatology
Title of proceedings Theoretical and Applied Climatology
DOI 10.1007/s00704-012-0690-2


In this study, the authors have investigated the likely future changes in the summer monsoon over the Western Ghats (WG) orographic region of India in response to global warming, using time-slice simulations of an ultra high-resolution global climate model and climate datasets of recent past. The model with approximately 20-km mesh horizontal resolution resolves orographic features on finer spatial scales leading to a quasi-realistic simulation of the spatial distribution of the present-day summer monsoon rainfall over India and trends in monsoon rainfall over the west coast of India. As a result, a higher degree of confidence appears to emerge in many aspects of the 20-km model simulation, and therefore, we can have better confidence in the validity of the model prediction of future changes in the climate over WG mountains. Our analysis suggests that the summer mean rainfall and the vertical velocities over the orographic regions of Western Ghats have significantly weakened during the recent past and the model simulates these features realistically in the present-day climate simulation. Under future climate scenario, by the end of the twenty-first century, the model projects reduced orographic precipitation over the narrow Western Ghats south of 16°N that is found to be associated with drastic reduction in the southwesterly winds and moisture transport into the region, weakening of the summer mean meridional circulation and diminished vertical velocities. We show that this is due to larger upper tropospheric warming relative to the surface and lower levels, which decreases the lapse rate causing an increase in vertical moist static stability (which in turn inhibits vertical ascent) in response to global warming. Increased stability that weakens vertical velocities leads to reduction in large-scale precipitation which is found to be the major contributor to summer mean rainfall over WG orographic region. This is further corroborated by a significant decrease in the frequency of moderate-to-heavy rainfall days over WG which is a typical manifestation of the decrease in large-scale precipitation over this region. Thus, the drastic reduction of vertical ascent and weakening of circulation due to ‘upper tropospheric warming effect’ predominates over the ‘moisture build-up effect’ in reducing the rainfall over this narrow orographic region. This analysis illustrates that monsoon rainfall over mountainous regions is strongly controlled by processes and parameterized physics which need to be resolved with adequately high resolution for accurate assessment of local and regional-scale climate change.