Opposite Changes in Monsoon Precipitation and Low Pressure System Frequency in Response to Orographic Forcing


Monsoon low pressure systems (LPS) are synoptic-scale disturbances that form along the quasi-stationary trough of the larger-scale South Asian summer monsoon, producing a large fraction of total monsoon precipitation. Here, we use an Earth system model to investigate the influence of Tibetan and Himalayan orography (THO) on mean monsoon strength and LPS activity. The influence of THO height on LPS activity has not been investigated before. The model simulates decreased mean monsoon circulation and precipitation when THO is removed, but the number of LPS and the meridional extent of LPS activity increase; this is an unexpected, important finding given that LPS are principal rain-bearing systems of the monsoon. The decreased mean monsoon circulation and precipitation on removal of THO are attributed to enhanced mixing of dry extratropical air into the humid monsoon domain, as demonstrated by prior studies. The increase in LPS frequency and the meridional extent of LPS activity is attributed to the increase in magnitude and meridional extent of the low-level meridional shear of zonal wind, which previous work showed amplifies LPS through barotropic growth. Specifically, as monsoon precipitation decreases, the sensible heat-driven low-level trough intensifies and shifts equatorward; this strengthens the shear zone in which LPS grow. Conversely, increasing THO height decreases the magnitude and meridional extent of cyclonic shear over India, decreasing LPS frequency and the spatial extent of LPS activity while increasing total monsoon precipitation. These results demonstrate that LPS activity and total monsoon rainfall can undergo large, opposing changes in response to imposed forcings.

Journal of Climate, 36, 6309-6329, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-22-0476.1