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Impacts of the Tibetan Plateau on Asian Climate

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  • 1 State Key Laboratory of Numerical Modeling for Atmospheric Sciences and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (LASG), Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
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Abstract

Professor Yanai is remembered in our hearts as an esteemed friend. Based on his accomplishments in tropical meteorology and with his flashes of insight he led his group at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1980s and 1990s to explore the thermal features of the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and its relation to the Asian monsoon, and he brought forward the TP meteorology established by Ye Duzheng et al. in 1957 to a new stage. In cherishing the memory of Professor Yanai and his great contribution to the TP meteorology, the authors review their recent study on the impacts of the TP and contribute this chapter as an extension of their chapter titled “Effects of the Tibetan Plateau” published by Yanai and Wu in 2006 in the book The Asian Monsoon.

The influence of a large-scale orography on climate depends not only on the mechanical and thermal forcing it exerts on the atmosphere, but also on the background atmospheric circulation. In winter the TP possesses two leading heating modes resulting from the relevant dominant atmospheric circulations, in particular the North Atlantic Oscillation and the North Pacific Oscillation. The prevailing effect of the mechanical forcing of the TP in wintertime generates a dipole type of circulation, in which the anticyclonic gyre in the middle and high latitudes contributes to the warm inland area to the west, and the cold seashore area to the east, of northeast Asia, whereas the cyclonic gyre in low latitudes contributes to the formation of a prolonged dry season over central and southern Asia and moist climate over southeastern Asia. Such a dipole circulation also generates a unique persistent rainfall in early spring (PRES) over southern China.

In 1980s, Yanai and his colleagues analyzed the in situ observation and found that the constant potential temperature boundary layer over the TP can reach about 300 hPa before the summer monsoon onset. This study supports these findings, and demonstrates that such a boundary layer structure is a consequence of the atmospheric thermal adaptation to the surface sensible heating, which vanishes quickly with increasing height. The overshooting of rising air, which is induced by surface sensible heating, then can form a layer of constant potential temperature with a thickness of several kilometers.

The thermal forcing of the TP on the lower tropospheric circulation looks like a sensible heat–driven air pump (SHAP). It is the surface sensible heating on the sloping sides of the plateau that the SHAP can effectively influence the Asian monsoon circulation. In spring the SHAP contributes to the seasonal abrupt change of the Asian circulation and anchors the earliest Asian summer monsoon onset over the eastern Bay of Bengal. In summer, this pumping, together with the thermal forcing over the Iranian Plateau, produces bimodality in the South Asian high activity in the upper troposphere, which is closely related to the climate anomaly patterns over South and East Asia. Because the isentropic surfaces in the middle and lower troposphere intersect with the TP, in summertime the plateau becomes a strong negative vorticity source of the atmosphere and affects the surrounding climate and even the Northern Hemispheric circulation via Rossby wave energy dispersion. Future prospects in related TP studies are also addressed.

Corresponding author address: Guoxiong Wu, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, LASG, 40 HuayanBeili, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 9804, China. E-mail: gxwu@lasg.iap.ac.cn

Abstract

Professor Yanai is remembered in our hearts as an esteemed friend. Based on his accomplishments in tropical meteorology and with his flashes of insight he led his group at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1980s and 1990s to explore the thermal features of the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and its relation to the Asian monsoon, and he brought forward the TP meteorology established by Ye Duzheng et al. in 1957 to a new stage. In cherishing the memory of Professor Yanai and his great contribution to the TP meteorology, the authors review their recent study on the impacts of the TP and contribute this chapter as an extension of their chapter titled “Effects of the Tibetan Plateau” published by Yanai and Wu in 2006 in the book The Asian Monsoon.

The influence of a large-scale orography on climate depends not only on the mechanical and thermal forcing it exerts on the atmosphere, but also on the background atmospheric circulation. In winter the TP possesses two leading heating modes resulting from the relevant dominant atmospheric circulations, in particular the North Atlantic Oscillation and the North Pacific Oscillation. The prevailing effect of the mechanical forcing of the TP in wintertime generates a dipole type of circulation, in which the anticyclonic gyre in the middle and high latitudes contributes to the warm inland area to the west, and the cold seashore area to the east, of northeast Asia, whereas the cyclonic gyre in low latitudes contributes to the formation of a prolonged dry season over central and southern Asia and moist climate over southeastern Asia. Such a dipole circulation also generates a unique persistent rainfall in early spring (PRES) over southern China.

In 1980s, Yanai and his colleagues analyzed the in situ observation and found that the constant potential temperature boundary layer over the TP can reach about 300 hPa before the summer monsoon onset. This study supports these findings, and demonstrates that such a boundary layer structure is a consequence of the atmospheric thermal adaptation to the surface sensible heating, which vanishes quickly with increasing height. The overshooting of rising air, which is induced by surface sensible heating, then can form a layer of constant potential temperature with a thickness of several kilometers.

The thermal forcing of the TP on the lower tropospheric circulation looks like a sensible heat–driven air pump (SHAP). It is the surface sensible heating on the sloping sides of the plateau that the SHAP can effectively influence the Asian monsoon circulation. In spring the SHAP contributes to the seasonal abrupt change of the Asian circulation and anchors the earliest Asian summer monsoon onset over the eastern Bay of Bengal. In summer, this pumping, together with the thermal forcing over the Iranian Plateau, produces bimodality in the South Asian high activity in the upper troposphere, which is closely related to the climate anomaly patterns over South and East Asia. Because the isentropic surfaces in the middle and lower troposphere intersect with the TP, in summertime the plateau becomes a strong negative vorticity source of the atmosphere and affects the surrounding climate and even the Northern Hemispheric circulation via Rossby wave energy dispersion. Future prospects in related TP studies are also addressed.

Corresponding author address: Guoxiong Wu, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, LASG, 40 HuayanBeili, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 9804, China. E-mail: gxwu@lasg.iap.ac.cn
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