Publications

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2019
Aguilera, R, Gershunov A, Benmarhnia T.  2019.  Atmospheric rivers impact California's coastal water quality via extreme precipitation. Science of the Total Environment. 671:488-494.   10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.03.318   AbstractWebsite

Precipitation in California is projected to become more volatile: less frequent but more extreme as global warming pushes midlatitude frontal cyclones further poleward while bolstering the atmospheric rivers (ARs), which tend to produce the region's extreme rainfall. Pollutant accumulation and delivery to coastal waters can be expected to increase, as lengthening dry spells will be increasingly punctuated by more extreme precipitation events. Coastal pollution exposes human populations to high levels of fecal bacteria and associated pathogens, which can cause a variety of health impacts. Consequently, studying the impact of atmospheric rivers as the mechanism generating pulses of water pollution in coastal areas is relevant for public health and in the context of climate change. We aimed to quantify the links between precipitation events and water quality in order to explore meteorological causes as first steps toward effective early warning systems for the benefit of population health in California and beyond. We used historical gridded daily precipitation and weekly multiple fecal bacteria indicators at similar to 500 monitoring locations in California's coastal waters to identify weekly associations between precipitation and water quality during 2003-09 using canonical correlation analysis to account for the nested/clustered nature of longitudinal data. We then quantified, using a recently published catalog of atmospheric rivers, the proportion of coastal pollution events attributable to ARs. Association between precipitation and fecal bacteria was strongest in Southern California. Over two-thirds of coastal water pollution spikes exceeding one standard deviation were associated with ARs. This work highlights the importance of skillful AR landfall predictions in reducing vulnerability to extreme weather improving resilience of human populations in a varying and changing climate. Quantifying the impacts of ARs on waterborne diseases is important for planning effective preventive strategies for public health. (C) 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

2018
Guirguis, K, Gershunov A, Clemesha RES, Shulgina T, Subramanian AC, Ralph FM.  2018.  Circulation drivers of atmospheric rivers at the North American West Coast. Geophysical Research Letters. 45:12576-12584.   10.1029/2018gl079249   AbstractWebsite

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are mechanisms of strong moisture transport capable of bringing heavy precipitation to the West Coast of North America, which drives water resources and can lead to large-scale flooding. Understanding links between climate variability and landfalling ARs is critical for improving forecasts on timescales needed for water resource management. We examined 69years of landfalling ARs along western North America using reanalysis and a long-term AR catalog to identify circulation drivers of AR landfalls. This analysis reveals that AR activity along the West Coast is largely associated with a handful of influential modes of atmospheric variability. Interaction between these modes creates favorable or unfavorable atmospheric states for landfalling ARs at different locations, effectively steering moisture plumes up and down the coast from Mexico to British Columbia. Seasonal persistence of certain modes helps explain interannual variability of landfalling ARs, including recent California drought years and the wet winter of 2016/2017. Plain Language Summary Understanding links between large-scale climate variability and landfalling ARs is important for improving subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) predictability of water resources in the western United States. We have analyzed a seven-decade-long catalog of ARs impacting western North America to quantify synoptic influence on AR activity. Our results identify dominant circulation patterns associated with landfalling ARs and show how seasonal variation in the prevalence of certain circulation features modulates the frequency of AR landfalls at different latitudes in a given year. AR variability played an important role in the recent California drought as well as the wet winter of 2016/2017, and we show how this variability was associated with the relative frequency of favorable versus unfavorable atmospheric states. Our findings also reveal that the bulk of AR landfalls along the West Coast is associated with only a handful of influential circulation features, which has implications for S2S predictability.

2017
Polade, SD, Gershunov A, Cayan DR, Dettinger MD, Pierce DW.  2017.  Precipitation in a warming world: Assessing projected hydro-climate changes in California and other Mediterranean climate regions. Scientific Reports. 7   10.1038/s41598-017-11285-y   AbstractWebsite

In most Mediterranean climate (MedClim) regions around the world, global climate models (GCMs) consistently project drier futures. In California, however, projections of changes in annual precipitation are inconsistent. Analysis of daily precipitation in 30 GCMs reveals patterns in projected hydrometeorology over each of the five MedClm regions globally and helps disentangle their causes. MedClim regions, except California, are expected to dry via decreased frequency of winter precipitation. Frequencies of extreme precipitation, however, are projected to increase over the two MedClim regions of the Northern Hemisphere where projected warming is strongest. The increase in heavy and extreme precipitation is particularly robust over California, where it is only partially offset by projected decreases in low-medium intensity precipitation. Over the Mediterranean Basin, however, losses from decreasing frequency of low-medium-intensity precipitation are projected to dominate gains from intensifying projected extreme precipitation. MedClim regions are projected to become more sub-tropical, i.e. made dryer via pole-ward expanding subtropical subsidence. California's more nuanced hydrological future reflects a precarious balance between the expanding subtropical high from the south and the south-eastward extending Aleutian low from the north-west. These dynamical mechanisms and thermodynamic moistening of the warming atmosphere result in increased horizontal water vapor transport, bolstering extreme precipitation events.

2015
Lavers, DA, Ralph FM, Waliser DE, Gershunov A, Dettinger MD.  2015.  Climate change intensification of horizontal water vapor transport in CMIP5. Geophysical Research Letters. 42:5617-5625.   10.1002/2015gl064672   AbstractWebsite

Global warming of the Earth's atmosphere is hypothesized to lead to an intensification of the global water cycle. To determine associated hydrological changes, most previous research has used precipitation. This study, however, investigates projected changes to global atmospheric water vapor transport (integrated vapor transport (IVT)), the key link between water source and sink regions. Using 22 global circulation models from the Climate Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5, we evaluate, globally, the mean, standard deviation, and the 95th percentiles of IVT from the historical simulations (1979-2005) and two emissions scenarios (2073-2099). Considering the more extreme emissions, multimodel mean IVT increases by 30-40% in the North Pacific and North Atlantic storm tracks and in the equatorial Pacific Ocean trade winds. An acceleration of the high-latitude IVT is also shown. Analysis of low-altitude moisture and winds suggests that these changes are mainly due to higher atmospheric water vapor content.