East Asia could be flooded by ‘rivers in the sky’ due to climate change, scientists warn

global warming
  • Researchers used model simulations to predict behaviors of atmospheric rivers under different climate change outcomes.
  • A study found that an increase of 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) would result in “unprecedented extreme rainfall” in East Asia.
  • The greatest rainfalls, according to the simulation, would occur in Taiwan, northeastern China, the Korean Peninsula and parts of Japan, mainly the southwestern slope of the Japanese Alps.

East Asia will suffer severe rainfalls unlike anything in the past if global warming persists, scientists from Japan’s University of Tsukuba say in a new study.

Such rainfalls, according to the researchers, will be the result of “long, narrow bands of concentrated vapor” called atmospheric rivers, which form as more water is transported through the air. These “rivers” in the sky can cause major flooding as soon as they hit barriers such as a mountain range, according to the university.

“Atmospheric rivers will bring unprecedented extreme rainfall over East Asia under global warming,” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters in December 2021.

The researchers utilized model simulations based on meteorological data collected from 1951 to 2010 to examine the behavior of atmospheric rivers under various climate change outcomes. They found that if temperatures rise by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), there would be “strengthened vapor transport and increased precipitation.”

The simulations, modeled through the year 2090, also revealed that peaks in rainfall would occur in western Japan, central Japan, northern Japan, the Korean Peninsula, northeastern China and Taiwan. The southwestern slope of the Japanese Alps, in particular, would suffer the strongest precipitates.

The researchers were inspired to pursue the study after East Asia weathered extreme rainfalls in July 2018 and July 2020. While they have limited the study in the region, they believe their findings would apply to other parts of the world.

“Our findings are likely also applicable to other regions of the mid-latitudes where interactions between atmospheric rivers and steep mountains play a major role in precipitation, such as in western North America and Europe,” lead author Yoichi Kamae said in a news release.

“These regions may also experience more frequent and intense extreme precipitation events as the climate warms.”

Featured Image via NHK World-Japan

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