The Monsoon: From mountain building to air quality
Beth Pratt-Sitaula, Central Washington University

The climate system that dominates the Himalaya-Tibet region is the Indian Monsoon, which drops meters of rain on the southern side of the Himalaya every summer. This session highlights two aspects of the monsoon system that operate on greatly different timescales – one over millions of years (climate-mountain building interactions) and one that may be important within one human lifetime (climate-air quality connections). Initially, the monsoon is driven by the heating of the continental surface in spring. The heating causes air over Tibet to rise and Indian Ocean air to move landwards. When the warm moist ocean air impinges on the Himalayan front, the water becomes the monsoon rains. The topography has deeply affected the climate – as the Himalaya have grown taller, the monsoons have strengthened over the last tens of millions of years. Climate may also have affected topography. Researchers are studying whether the shape of the mountain range has been altered by the intense precipitation and erosion occurring on its southern margin. Many aspects of Earth’s modern climate also revolve around connections to the Indian Monsoon. To understand how the system, which also plays a huge part in the economy of India and southern Asia, will change in the future, we must better understand how it operates now. A huge unknown revolves around how the atmosphere responds to human-generated particulate pollution (aerosols). Researchers are studying whether the industrialization and accompanying aerosol release in India and China will lead to reductions or increases in monsoon rains and temperature.

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