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Length and time scales of atmospheric moisture recycling

by R. J. Van Der Ent, H. H G Savenije
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics ()

Abstract

It is difficult to quantify the degree to which terrestrial evaporation supports the occurrence of precipitation within a certain study region (i.e. regional moisture recycling) due to the scale-and shape-dependence of regional moisture recycling ratios. In this paper we present a novel approach to quantify the spatial and temporal scale of moisture recycling, independent of the size and shape of the region under study. In contrast to previous studies, which essentially used curve fitting, the scaling laws presented by us follow directly from the process equation. thus allowing a fair comparison between regions and seasons. The calculation is based on ERA-Interim reanalysis data for the period 1999 to 2008. It is shown that in the tropics or in mountainous terrain the length scale of recycling can be as low as 500 to 2000 km. In temperate climates the length scale is typically between 3000 to 5000 km whereas it amounts to more than 7000 km in desert areas. The time scale of recycling ranges from 3 to 20 days, with the exception of deserts, where it is much longer. The most distinct seasonal differences can be observed over the Northern Hemisphere: in winter, moisture recycling is insignificant, whereas in summer it plays a major role in the climate. The length and time scales of atmospheric moisture recycling can be useful metrics to quantify local climatic effects of land use change.

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