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Short-term modulation of Indian summer monsoon rainfall by West Asian dust


The Indian summer monsoon is influenced by numerous factors, including aerosol-induced changes to clouds, surface and atmospheric heating, and atmospheric circulation. Most previous studies assessing the effect of aerosols on monsoon rainfall have focussed on the local impact of aerosols on precipitation on monthly to seasonal timescales. Here, we show that desert dust aerosol levels over the Arabian Sea, West Asia and the Arabian Peninsula are positively correlated with the intensity of the Indian summer monsoon, using satellite data and models; a lead–lag analysis indicates that dust and precipitation vary in concert over timescales of about a week. Our analysis of global climate model simulations indicates that by heating the atmosphere, dust aerosols induce large-scale convergence over North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, increasing the flow of moisture over India within a week. According to these simulations, dust-induced heating of the atmosphere over North Africa and West Asia rapidly modulates monsoon rainfall over central India.

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Figure 1: Correlation coefficient between precipitation (over central India, as indicated by the square) and aerosol optical depth (AOD) over the Indian region.
Figure 2: Correlation between precipitation over central India and AOD in free-running simulations with present-day emissions.
Figure 3: Correlation between precipitation over central India and AOD in free-running simulations with pre-industrial emissions.
Figure 4: The precipitation response (mm d−1) associated with natural aerosol emissions.
Figure 5: The short-time response of precipitation to dust forcing as estimated from the composite of two 19-member sets of ten-day simulations (the DPE).
Figure 6: Schematic representation of the circulation and monsoon rainfall response to dust aerosols over North Africa and West Asia suggested here.


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This work was supported by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Program for Laboratory Directed Research and the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (BER) Earth System Modeling Program. PNNL is operated for the DOE by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-76RLO 1830. The MODIS, MISR and GPCP mission scientists and associated National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel are acknowledged for the production of the data used in this research effort. Computational resources for the analysis and simulations were provided through internal lab resources and an award through the DOE National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is supported by the Office of Science of the DOE under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

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V.V. and P.J.R. primarily conceived the idea. V.V. carried out the data analysis and free-running model simulations. P.L.M. and J-H.Y. carried out the offline and DPE model simulations, respectively. All authors contributed through discussions and interpretation of the results. V.V. wrote a first draft of the paper with subsequent input from all the co-authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Philip J. Rasch.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Vinoj, V., Rasch, P., Wang, H. et al. Short-term modulation of Indian summer monsoon rainfall by West Asian dust. Nature Geosci 7, 308–313 (2014).

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