Atmospheric rivers will become more frequent and intense with global warming

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Torrential rains could flood East Asia’s mountainous regions as global temperatures soar, according to new research led by the University of Tsukuba. Using atmospheric data, the researchers made projections for the end of the century and, to make matters worse, the same scenario appears in other regions of the world.

According to the new study, as global temperature rises and changes atmospheric patterns — such as precipitation and wind currents — East Asia will begin to concentrate a greater number of atmospheric rivers, which are narrow corridors of moisture that can release a lot of water in a short time.

As these mountainous regions receive a large volume of water, flooding will also become more and more frequent in the coming decades. “Atmospheric rivers will bring unprecedented extreme rainfall over East Asia under global warming,” the study authors said.

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Atmospheric rivers are a natural phenomenon responsible for transporting moisture from hot to colder regions, but dynamics depend exclusively on wind patterns and atmospheric temperatures — both of which are already affected by climate change.

Calculating the rains

The team performed a series of simulations with atmospheric data recorded between 1951 and 2010. The projections evaluated the scenario for up to 2090 using as a basis the most severe global temperature increase pointed out by other models.

There is still no way to know exactly how atmospheric rivers will behave in the face of global climate change. Some regions may benefit from increased rainfall, but others will be subject to frequent flooding.

The model can also be applied in mid-latitudes such as North America and Europe, “where interactions between atmospheric rivers and steep mountains play an important role in precipitation,” said Yoichi Kamae, the study’s lead author.

The work was featured in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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