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Automated identification of South Asian monsoon low pressure systems: Historical variations across reanalysis products
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  • Vishnu S,
  • William Boos,
  • Paul Ullrich,
  • Travis O'Brien
Vishnu S
University of California

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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William Boos
University of California
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Paul Ullrich
University of California, Davis
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Travis O'Brien
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
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Synoptic-scale cyclonic vortices produce abundant rainfall in South Asia, where these low pressure systems (LPS) are traditionally categorized as monsoon lows, monsoon depressions, and more intense cyclonic storms. The India Meteorological Department has tracked monsoon depressions for over a century, finding a large decline in the number of those storms in recent decades; their tracking methods, however, seem to have changed over time and do not include monsoon lows, which can produce intense rainfall despite their weak winds. This study presents a fast and objective tracking algorithm that can identify monsoon LPS in high-resolution datasets with a variety of grid structures. A sensitivity analysis has been performed to select a set of atmospheric variables and their corresponding thresholds for optimal tracking of LPS. Approximately 250 combinations of variables and thresholds are used to identify LPS over roughly a decade (the training period) in each of four atmospheric reanalyses, and these combinations are ranked using a skill score that compares the reanalyses with each other and with a preexisting track dataset that was compiled by subjective identification of LPS. This procedure finds the streamfunction of the 850 hPa horizontal wind to be the best variable for tracking LPS. The streamfunction is smoother than the vorticity field and represents the complete non-divergent component of the wind even when the flow is not geostrophic, unlike the geopotential height or sea level pressure. Using this tracking algorithm, LPS statistics are then computed in five reanalysis products that each span at least 40 years, with a primary goal being to determine whether the large decrease in monsoon depressions seen in the India Meteorological Department track dataset since the 1970s can be found in any reanalysis. This trend assessment is particularly relevant for the ERA5 reanalysis, which extends back to 1950 and which contains explicit climate forcings. In addition to secular trends, this study assesses the decadal variation of LPS, as well as interannual changes in LPS activity that are associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Dipole.