Water vapour accumulation mechanisms in the Western Mediterranean Basin and the development of European extreme rainfalls

DOI: 10.3369/tethys.2011.8.10

Tethys no. 8 pp.: 101 - 117

Abstract

This paper examines the role of a recently described warm season circulation at the middle troposphere of northern Africa and that of the recirculation-accumulation mode of the Western Mediterranean Basin (WMB) in the initiation of rainfall episodes in central and eastern Europe. Both of these atmospheric mechanisms can accumulate not only soil dust and pollutants for several days but also water vapour by evaporation both over the subtropical Atlantic and the western and central Mediterranean. Accumulation layers are vented off into the surrounding area after the irruption of perturbations. In particular, this work explores the exportation of water vapour under perturbed conditions associated with the passage of ‘Vb’ cyclones. The exceptional rainfall experienced over large areas of central Europe (Elbe/Danube floods) during August 11-13, 2002 is exposed as a case study. The procedure to simulate the mechanisms involves a combination of the Regional Atmospheric Modelling System and HYbrid PArticle Concentration and Transport modelling systems. MODIS water vapour products, radio-soundings, wind profiler radars and surface-satellite precipitation data are used to verify the simulation outputs. Our results show that most of the precipitation occurring in the target area during the initiation and deepening of the episode was very likely originated in an air mass exported from the WMB. After our tracking experiment, that air mass, with an initial Atlantic origin, entered the WMB and circulated during 4 days (August 6-9) within the marine boundary layer and the coastal range of mountains of the WMB, accumulating vapour. Then, most of it was transported on August 10, after the irruption of the ‘Vb’ cyclone Ilse, through the Italian Peninsula and the Adriatic Sea, across the Western Balkans into the target area. The transported vapour together with evaporation en route initiated the rainfall episode.

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Partially funded through grants CGL2007-29820-E/CLI, CGL2008-02804-E/, CGL2009-07417-E and CGL2011-14046-E of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation