Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 477–493, 2017
Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 477–493, 2017

Research article 03 Jul 2017

Research article | 03 Jul 2017

Sensitivity experiments on the response of Vb cyclones to sea surface temperature and soil moisture changes

Martina Messmer1,2, Juan José Gómez-Navarro1,2,3, and Christoph C. Raible1,2 Martina Messmer et al.
  • 1Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 3now at Department of Physics, University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain

Abstract. Extratropical cyclones of type Vb, which develop over the western Mediterranean and move northeastward, are major natural hazards that are responsible for heavy precipitation over central Europe. To gain further understanding in the governing processes of these Vb cyclones, the study explores the role of soil moisture and sea surface temperature (SST) and their contribution to the atmospheric moisture content. Thereby, recent Vb events identified in the ERA-Interim reanalysis are dynamically downscaled with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. Results indicate that a mean high-impact summer Vb event is mostly sensitive to an increase in the Mediterranean SSTs and rather insensitive to Atlantic SSTs and soil moisture changes. Hence, an increase of +5 K in Mediterranean SSTs leads to an average increase of 24 % in precipitation over central Europe. This increase in precipitation is mainly induced by larger mean upward moisture flux over the Mediterranean with increasing Mediterranean SSTs. This further invokes an increase in latent energy release, which leads to an increase in atmospheric instability, i.e. in convective available potential energy. Both the increased availability of atmospheric moisture and the increased instability of the atmosphere, which is able to remove extra moisture from the atmosphere due to convective processes, are responsible for the strong increase in precipitation over the entire region influenced by Vb events. Precipitation patterns further indicate that a strong increase in precipitation is found at the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea for increased Mediterranean SSTs. This premature loss in atmospheric moisture leads to a significant decrease in atmospheric moisture transport to central Europe and the northeastern flanks of the Alpine mountain chain. This leads to a reduction in precipitation in this high-impact region of the Vb event for an increase in Mediterranean SSTs of +5 K. Furthermore, the intensity of the Vb cyclones, measured as a gradient in the 850 hPa geopotential height field around the cyclone centre, indicates that an upper bound for intensity might be reached for the most intense Vb event.

Short summary
Low-pressure systems of type Vb may trigger heavy rainfall events over central Europe. This study aims at analysing the relative role of their moisture sources. For this, a set of sensitivity experiments encompassing changes in soil moisture and Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea SSTs are carried out with WRF. The latter moisture source stands out as the most relevant one. Furthermore, the regions most affected by Vb events in the future might be shifted from the Alps to the Balkan Peninsula.
Final-revised paper