Monsoon depression amplification by horizontal shear and humidity gradients: a shallow water perspective


Transient, synoptic-scale vortices produce a large fraction of total rainfall in most monsoon regions and are often associated with extreme precipitation. However, the mechanism of their amplification remains a topic of active research. For monsoon depressions, which are the most prominent synoptic-scale vortex in the Asian-Australian monsoon, recent work has suggested that meridional gradients in zonal wind in the vortex environment may produce growth through barotropic instability, while meridional gradients in environmental humidity have also been proposed to cause amplification through coupling with precipitating convection. Here, a two-dimensional shallow water model on a sphere with parameterized precipitation is used to examine the relative role played by these two environmental gradients. By systematically varying the meridional moisture gradient and meridional wind shear for both weak, quasi-linear waves and finite-amplitude isolated vortices, we show that rotational winds in the initial vortex are amplified most strongly by meridional shear of the environmental zonal wind, while vortex precipitation rates are most sensitive to environmental moisture gradients. The growth rate in the presence of both gradients is less than the sum of growth rates in the presence of isolated gradients, as the phase relation between moisture and vorticity anomalies becomes distorted with increasing shear. These results suggest that background meridional gradients in both zonal wind and environmental humidity can contribute to the amplification of vortices to monsoon depression strength, but with some degree of decoupling of the dry rotational flow and the moist convection.

Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, accepted