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Climate Variability & Change

Precipitation in complex terrain provides both great benefit and peril to life on earth, yet orographic precipitation remains a poorly observed, understood, and predicted phenomena. Theories describing the distribution of precipitation surrounding topography have been developed using linear, and full numerical model solutions over the last half-century. However, these state of the art theories remain largely untested by precipitation observations in many regions under a broad range of conditions. Thus, it is imperative that remote sensing techniques are leveraged, and their uncertainties be better quantified, to understand the mechanisms that govern the distribution and intensity of orographic precipitation. Improved orographic precipitation measurement will advance (1) the predictability of high-impact weather such as flash floods and the management of water resources, (2) improvements in weather and climate prediction models, and (3) constrain estimates of fundamental processes in the earth's water and energy cycle. In this project, we will use NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), in combination with NASA Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) to examine the variability and environments of orographic precipitation at widely varying time and spatial scales. Firstly, we will validate precipitation measurements in complex terrain, with a focus on determining the utility of radar and passive microwave measurements to determine the spatial distribution and intensity of orographic precipitation, an activity of great importance to NASA's planned Global Precipitation Mission (GPM). Secondly, we will investigate the dynamical and microphysical characteristics of orographic precipitating systems using Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission multisensor measurements to generate a detailed high-time and space-resolution climatology of orographic precipitation processes. Finally, we will use the observed cloud properties and precipitation structures alongside reanalysis data to evaluate current theories of orographic precipitation generation. As an integrated education outreach component, we propose a small field campaign to measure orographic precipitation in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico. Engineering and earth science students from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, along with the PI and collaborator Prof. Laurie Williams will perform the field work. The student body of Fort Lewis College contains a high fraction of underrepresented ethnicities, and gives free tuition to Native Americans. The students will help deploy and analyze data from a network of ~10 tipping bucket rain gauges deployed for a monsoon season. The goals of the field project will be to understand and validate measurements of the small-scale variability of precipitation over a small mountain range, as well as entrain students into further scholarship through field project participation and mentorship.

Project PI: Stephen Nesbitt/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Email: snesbitt@uiuc.edu

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Started: Aug 09, 2010

Last Activity: Dec 09, 2010

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