Mountains and Arid Climates of Middle Latitudes

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Science  12 Jan 1990:
Vol. 247, Issue 4939, pp. 192-195
DOI: 10.1126/science.247.4939.192


Simulations from a global climate model with and without orography have been used to investigate the role of mountains in maintaining extensive arid climates in middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Dry climates similar to those observed were simulated over central Asia and western interior North America in the experiment with mountains, whereas relatively moist climates were simulated in these areas in the absence of orography. The experiments suggest that these interior regions are dry because general subsidence and relatively infrequent storm development occur upstream of orographically induced stationary wave troughs. Downstream of these troughs, precipitation-bearing storms develop frequently in association with strong jet streams. In contrast, both atmospheric circulation and precipitation were more zonally symmetric in the experiment without mountains. In addition, orography reduces the moisture transport into the continental interiors from nearby oceanic sources. The relative soil wetness of these regions in the experiment without mountains is consistent with paleoclimatic evidence of less aridity during the late Tertiary, before substantial uplift of the Rocky Mountains and Tibetan Plateau is believed to have occurred.