Environmental Science and Engineering Seminar

Wednesday December 10, 2014 4:00 PM

Island Rainfall Enhancement and the Tropical Climate

Speaker: Timothy Cronin, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University
Location: South Mudd 365

To understand why tropical islands are rainier than nearby ocean areas, we explore how a highly idealized island, differing from the surrounding ocean only in heat capacity, might respond to the diurnal cycle and influence the tropical climate, especially the spatial distribution of rainfall and the thermal structure of the troposphere. We perform simulations of three-dimensional radiative-convective equilibrium with the System for Atmospheric Modeling (SAM) cloud-system-resolving model, with interactive surface temperature, where a highly idealized, low heat capacity circular island is embedded in a slab-ocean domain. Average rainfall over the island can be more than double the domain average value, with island rainfall occurring primarily in an intense, regular thunderstorm system that forms in the afternoon to early evening each day. Island size affects the magnitude of simulated island rainfall enhancement, the intensity of the convection, and the timing of the rainfall maximum relative to solar noon. A combination of dynamic and thermodynamic mechanisms leads to a monotonic enhancement of domain-averaged tropospheric temperature with increasing fraction of island surface, which may contribute to localization of ascent over the Maritime Continent and its relationship to the Walker Circulation. Increasing island area fraction in the Western Pacific over the past ~5 Ma may thus have contributed to changes in the strength of the Walker Circulation and the sea surface temperature difference between the Eastern and Western Equatorial Pacific.

Series Environmental Science and Engineering Seminar

Contact: Kathy Young at 626-395-8732 katyoung@gps.caltech.edu