Volcanic Aerosol Impacts on Hawai‘i Island Rainfall

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  • 1 University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI
  • | 2 University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI
  • | 3 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO
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Abstract

In recent decades, a significant rainfall decline over the Island of Hawai‘i has been noted, with many hypothesizing that the drying is associated with the volcanic aerosols emitted from the Kīlauea Volcano. While it is clear that volcanic emissions can create hazardous air quality for Hawaiian communities, the impacts on rainfall are less clear. Here we investigate the impact of volcanic aerosol emissions on Hawai‘i Island rainfall. Based on observed daily rainfall and SO2 emissions, it is found that days with high SO2 emissions have on average 8 mm day−1 less rainfall downstream of the Kīlauea Volcano. Sensitivity studies with varying volcanic aerosol emission sources from the Kīlauea vent locations have also been conducted by the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model in order to examine the detailed physical processes. Consistent with SO2 air quality observations, it is found that the diurnal change in aerosol number concentration is strongly dependent on the diurnal variation of local circulations. The added aerosols are lofted into the orographic convection where they modify the microphysical properties of the warm clouds by increasing the cloud droplet number concentration, decreasing the cloud droplet size, increasing cloud water content and enhancing cloud evaporation. The volcanic aerosols also delay precipitation production and modify the spatial distribution of rainfall on the downstream mountainside. The modification of precipitation on an island has far reaching consequences. For this reason, we work to quantify the sensitivity of the orographic precipitation to volcanic aerosols and move beyond hypothesized relationships towork toward understanding the underlying problem.

Corresponding author: Tianqi Zuo, tianqi@hawaii.edu

Abstract

In recent decades, a significant rainfall decline over the Island of Hawai‘i has been noted, with many hypothesizing that the drying is associated with the volcanic aerosols emitted from the Kīlauea Volcano. While it is clear that volcanic emissions can create hazardous air quality for Hawaiian communities, the impacts on rainfall are less clear. Here we investigate the impact of volcanic aerosol emissions on Hawai‘i Island rainfall. Based on observed daily rainfall and SO2 emissions, it is found that days with high SO2 emissions have on average 8 mm day−1 less rainfall downstream of the Kīlauea Volcano. Sensitivity studies with varying volcanic aerosol emission sources from the Kīlauea vent locations have also been conducted by the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model in order to examine the detailed physical processes. Consistent with SO2 air quality observations, it is found that the diurnal change in aerosol number concentration is strongly dependent on the diurnal variation of local circulations. The added aerosols are lofted into the orographic convection where they modify the microphysical properties of the warm clouds by increasing the cloud droplet number concentration, decreasing the cloud droplet size, increasing cloud water content and enhancing cloud evaporation. The volcanic aerosols also delay precipitation production and modify the spatial distribution of rainfall on the downstream mountainside. The modification of precipitation on an island has far reaching consequences. For this reason, we work to quantify the sensitivity of the orographic precipitation to volcanic aerosols and move beyond hypothesized relationships towork toward understanding the underlying problem.

Corresponding author: Tianqi Zuo, tianqi@hawaii.edu
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