New research identifies how one storm can affect another
5 September 2007
Weather forecasting and climate modelling for the notoriously unpredictable Sahel region of Africa could be made easier in the future, thanks to new research results coming from the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis study (AMMA).
A paper published in Geophysical Research Letters describes how the AMMA scientists gathered new atmospheric data by using satellite imagery to plot flight paths over areas where storms had produced very wet soils. Dropsondes (weather reconnaissance devices) were launched from a research aircraft above these wet areas to record data such as humidity, wind strength and temperature. The findings allowed the scientists to compare the atmospheric conditions above wet soils with those above adjacent dry soils.
The data showed that temperatures fell by up to 3°C in the air just above the wet soils and also confirmed theoretical studies that predict soil moisture can affect winds. The temperature contrasts between very wet soils and nearby dry soils can have a dramatic effect on weather conditions. Air over wet soils can build up considerable humidity, while the warm air over dry soils rises. When the wet and dry conditions combine, storms are likely to build.
Lead author Chris Taylor from Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, "Even small patches of moist soils, just ten kilometres across, were found to influence wind patterns. This provides a mechanism where storms can develop in a region because it rained there several days previously."
The results of the study will help climate modellers who have traditionally struggled to accurately represent climate in the region.
Dr Doug Parker from the University of Leeds said, "If we can get it right for West Africa, other parts of the world will automatically benefit."
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1. The study was jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the European Community's Sixth Framework Research Programme.
2. The study was carried out using the NERC/Met Office atmosphere research aircraft ( the BAe146).
3. The aircraft is managed by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM).
4. The Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) is the result of a collaboration between the Met Office and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and has been established as part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) to provide an aircraft measurement platform for use by all the UK atmospheric research community on campaigns throughout the world.
5. The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is the UK's leading research organisation for land and freshwater science. Its scientists carry out research to improve our understanding of both the environment and the processes that underlie the Earth's support systems. It is one of the Natural Environment Research Council's research centres.
6. The Natural Environment Research Council is one of the UK's seven research councils. It uses a budget of about £370m a year to fund and carry out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. It is addressing some of the key questions facing mankind, such as global warming, renewable energy and sustainable economic development.
7. Dr Doug Parker is from the School of Earth & Environment at the University of Leeds.
8. The University of Leeds is acclaimed world-wide for the quality of its teaching and research. One of the largest universities in the UK, Leeds is also the most popular among students applying for undergraduate courses. An emphasis on innovative research and investment in high-quality facilities and first-rate infrastructure means that no fewer than 35 departments are rated internationally or nationally 'excellent'.
Press release: 33/07
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