Influence of the Tian Shan on Arid Extratropical Asia


Arid extratropical Asia (AEA) is bisected at the wetter Tian Shan (a northern offshoot of the Tibetan Plateau) into east and west deserts, each with unique climatological characteristics. The east deserts (~35°–55°N, ~75°–115°E) have a summer precipitation maximum, and the west deserts (~35°–55°N, ~45°–75°E) have a winter–spring precipitation maximum. A new high-resolution (50 km atmosphere–land) global coupled climate model is run with the Tian Shan removed to determine whether these mountains are responsible for the climatological east–west differentiation of AEA. Multicentennial simulations for the Control and NoTianshan runs highlight statistically significant effects of the Tian Shan. Overall, the Tian Shan are found to enhance the precipitation seasonality gradient across AEA, mostly through altering the east deserts. The Tian Shan dramatically change the precipitation seasonality of the Taklimakan Desert directly to its east (the driest part of AEA) by blocking west winter precipitation, enhancing subsidence over this region, and increasing east summer precipitation. The Tian Shan increase east summer precipitation through two mechanisms: 1) orographic precipitation, which is greatest on the eastern edge of the Tian Shan in summer, and 2) remote enhancement of the East Asian summer monsoon through alteration of the larger-scale seasonal mean atmospheric circulation. The decrease in east winter precipitation also generates remote warming of the Altai and Kunlun Shan, mountains northeast and southeast of the Tian Shan, respectively, due to reduction of snow cover and corresponding albedo decrease.

Journal of Climate