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Article

Downscaling Wind  

S.C. Pryor and A.N. Hahmann

Winds within the atmospheric boundary layer (i.e., near to Earth’s surface) vary across a range of scales from a few meters and sub-second timescales (i.e., the scales of turbulent motions) to extremely large and long-period phenomena (i.e., the primary circulation patterns of the global atmosphere). Winds redistribute momentum and heat, and short- and long-term predictions of wind characteristics have applications to a number of socioeconomic sectors (e.g., engineering infrastructure). Despite its importance, atmospheric flow (i.e., wind) has been subject to less research within the climate downscaling community than variables such as air temperature and precipitation. However, there is a growing comprehension that wind storms are the single biggest source of “weather-related” insurance losses in Europe and North America in the contemporary climate, and that possible changes in wind regimes and intense wind events as a result of global climate non-stationarity are of importance to a variety of potential climate change feedbacks (e.g., emission of sea spray into the atmosphere), ecological impacts (such as wind throw of trees), and a number of other socioeconomic sectors (e.g., transportation infrastructure and operation, electricity generation and distribution, and structural design codes for buildings). There are a number of specific challenges inherent in downscaling wind including, but not limited to, the fact that it has both magnitude (wind speed) and orientation (wind direction). Further, for most applications, it is necessary to accurately downscale the full probability distribution of values at short timescales (e.g., hourly), including extremes, while the mean wind speed averaged over a month or year is of little utility. Dynamical, statistical, and hybrid approaches have been developed to downscale different aspects of the wind climate, but have large uncertainties in terms of high-impact aspects of the wind (e.g., extreme wind speeds and gusts). The wind energy industry is a key application for right-scaled wind parameters and has been a major driver of new techniques to increase fidelity. Many opportunities remain to refine existing downscaling methods, to develop new approaches to improve the skill with which the spatiotemporal scales of wind variability are represented, and for new approaches to evaluate skill in the context of wind climates.

Article

Climate Change and Severe Thunderstorms  

John T. Allen

The response of severe thunderstorms to a changing climate is a rapidly growing area of research. Severe thunderstorms are one of the largest contributors to global losses in excess of USD $10 billion per year in terms of property and agriculture, as well as dozens of fatalities. Phenomena associated with severe thunderstorms such as large hail (greater than 2 cm), damaging winds (greater than 90 kmh−1), and tornadoes pose a global threat, and have been documented on every continent except Antarctica. Limitations of observational records for assessing past trends have driven a variety of approaches to not only characterize the past occurrence but provide a baseline against which future projections can be interpreted. These proxy methods have included using environments or conditions favorable to the development of thunderstorms and directly simulating storm updrafts using dynamic downscaling. Both methodologies have demonstrated pronounced changes to the frequency of days producing severe thunderstorms. Major impacts of a strongly warmed climate include a general increase in the length of the season in both the fall and spring associated with increased thermal instability and increased frequency of severe days by the late 21st century. While earlier studies noted changes to vertical wind shear decreasing frequency, recent studies have illustrated that this change appears not to coincide with days which are unstable. Questions remain as to whether the likelihood of storm initiation decreases, whether all storms which now produce severe weather will maintain their physical structure in a warmer world, and how these changes to storm frequency and or intensity may manifest for each of the threats posed by tornadoes, hail, and damaging winds. Expansion of the existing understanding globally is identified as an area of needed future research, together with meaningful consideration of both the influence of climate variability and indirect implications of anthropogenic modification of the physical environment.

Article

Climate Change and Coastal Processes in the Baltic Sea  

Tarmo Soomere

Various manifestations of climate change have led to complicated patterns of reactions of the Baltic Sea shores to varying hydrodynamic drivers. The northern and western bedrock and limestone coasts of this young water body experience postglacial uplift that is faster than the global sea-level rise. These coastal segments are thus insensitive with respect to changes in hydrodynamic forcing. Sedimentary and easily erodible coasts of the westernmost, southern, and eastern shores of this water body evolve under the impact of relative sea-level rise, changing wave properties and gradual loss of sea ice in conditions of chronic deficit of fine sediment. Several classic features of coastal processes, such as the cut-and-fill cycle of beaches, are substantially modified in many coastal sections. Waves approaching the shore systematically at large angles drive massive alongshore sediment transport in many coastal segments. This transport has led to the development of large sand spits and many relict lakes separated from the sea by coastal barriers. The concept of closure depth is reinterpreted because of frequent synchronization of strong waves and elevated water levels. The gradual loss of sea ice cover endangers most seriously coastal systems around the latitudes of the Gulf of Finland (about 60°N). The combined influence of climatically controlled sea-level rise and intense wave action leads to a gradual increase in eroding sections and the acceleration of coastal retreat on the southern downlifting shores of Poland and Germany. The bidirectional wind forcing has created a delicate balance of sediment on the shores of Latvia and Lithuania. This balance is vulnerable with respect to changes in strong wind directions. The sedimentary shores of Estonia host a number of small beaches that are geometrically protected against typical strong wind directions but are sensitive with respect to storms from unusual directions. Numerical analysis of sediment transport patterns along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea has identified major changes in the wave directions in the Baltic Proper that can be attributed to manifestations of climate change.

Article

Constructing Records of Storminess  

Frauke Feser

Storms are characterized by high wind speeds; often large precipitation amounts in the form of rain, freezing rain, or snow; and thunder and lightning (for thunderstorms). Many different types exist, ranging from tropical cyclones and large storms of the midlatitudes to small polar lows, Medicanes, thunderstorms, or tornadoes. They can lead to extreme weather events like storm surges, flooding, high snow quantities, or bush fires. Storms often pose a threat to human lives and property, agriculture, forestry, wildlife, ships, and offshore and onshore industries. Thus, it is vital to gain knowledge about changes in storm frequency and intensity. Future storm predictions are important, and they depend to a great extent on the evaluation of changes in wind statistics of the past. To obtain reliable statistics, long and homogeneous time series over at least some decades are needed. However, wind measurements are frequently influenced by changes in the synoptic station, its location or surroundings, instruments, and measurement practices. These factors deteriorate the homogeneity of wind records. Storm indexes derived from measurements of sea-level pressure are less prone to such changes, as pressure does not show very much spatial variability as wind speed does. Long-term historical pressure measurements exist that enable us to deduce changes in storminess for more than the last 140 years. But storm records are not just compiled from measurement data; they also may be inferred from climate model data. The first numerical weather forecasts were performed in the 1950s. These served as a basis for the development of atmospheric circulation models, which were the first generation of climate models or general-circulation models. Soon afterward, model data was analyzed for storm events and cyclone-tracking algorithms were programmed. Climate models nowadays have reached high resolution and reliability and can be run not just for the past, but also for future emission scenarios which return possible future storm activity.

Article

Baltic Sea Level: Past, Present, and Future  

Ralf Weisse and Birgit Hünicke

A multitude of geophysical processes contribute to and determine variations and changes in the height of the Baltic Sea water surface. These processes act on a broad range of characteristic spatial and timescales ranging from a few seconds to millennia. On very long timescales, the northern parts of the Baltic are uplifting due to the still ongoing visco-elastic response of the Earth to the last deglaciation, and mean sea level is decreasing in these regions. Over centuries, the Baltic Sea responds to changes in global and North Atlantic mean sea level. Processes affecting global mean sea level, such as warming of the world ocean or melting of glaciers and of polar ice sheets, do have an imprint on Baltic Sea levels. Over decades, variations and changes in atmospheric circulation affect transport through the Danish Straits connecting the Baltic and North seas. As a result, the amount of water in the Baltic Sea and the height of the sea level vary. Similarly, atmospheric variability on shorter timescales down to a few days cause shorter period variations of transport through the Danish Straits and Baltic Sea level. On even shorter timescales, the Danish Straits act as a low pass filter, and high frequency variations of the water surface within the Baltic Sea such as storm surges, wind waves, or seiches are solely caused internally. All such processes have undergone considerable variations and changes in the past. Similarly, they are expected to show variations and changes in the future and across a broad range of scales, leaving their imprint on observed and potential future Baltic Sea level and its variability.