Better understanding of Interregional Teleconnections for prediction in the Monsoon And Poles (BITMAP)

Belmont Forum project summary video, July 2020

Annual IPA/IOP Cockcroft-Walton Lecture, IIT Ropar, 30 October 2020 on BITMAP results

Funding information

BITMAP is a multi-national project funded under the joint Belmont Forum and JPI-Climate 2015 call for Collaborative Research action on Climate Predictability and Inter-regional Linkages. National funders are:

See Belmont Forum YouTube channel for more information on this and other projects.

Our partners and team

BITMAP is a collaboration between University of Reading Department of Meteorology, the Klima Campus of Universität Hamburg and the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting.

Our team consists of:

Project details

Links to the funders' pages on this project can be found here and here. Expand
project summary
BITMAP is an Indo-UK-German project to develop better understanding of processes linking the Arctic and Asian monsoon, leading to better prospects for prediction on short, seasonal and decadal scales in both regions. Recent work has suggested that the pole-to-equator temperature difference is an essential ingredient driving variations in the monsoon. BITMAP's initial focus will be on the impact of the temperature difference between pole and equator on the establishment and variation of regional circulations. We will use existing databases of multiple climate models to unpack the impact of different forcing agents (e.g. greenhouse gases and polluting aerosols) on the relative warming of the northern and southern hemispheres and pole-to-equator temperature gradients. Next we will relate the gradient to position of the strongest rainfall and strength and position of monsoon circulation. We will also examine the impact of different pole-to-equator temperatures on hydroclimates of the vulnerable Hindu Kush- Himalaya (HKH) region in High Asia. Next we will test the impact on Arctic circulation patterns of "diabatic" heating arising from the monsoon rainfall (via waves in the atmosphere) b conducting novel experiments with climate models. This will also help us evaluate and improve these models by determining the problems caused by typical monsoon errors (e.g. misplaced tropical rainfall) on simulation of polar climates; we will also explore how errors in model Arctic sea-ice distribution affect the monsoon. Finally we will analyze effects of variations in climate. We will measure and model the impact of typical strong and weak Asian monsoon summers on atmospheric waves that travel to the poles and thereby develop a better understanding of the pathways to Arctic circulation, with implications for predicting sea-ice extent. In the other direction, we will use observations and models to assess the role of the changing Arctic temperatures on the jetstream and on the regularity of heavy rainfall and flooding events that affect South Asia

BITMAP aims to answer the following research questions:

  1. How are long-term changes in diabatic heating from the monsoon felt in the Arctic?
  2. How does the spread in projections of Arctic sea ice affect the future strength and position of the monsoon?
  3. How do changes in the E2P temperature gradient affect extreme events in northern India?
  4. What are the dynamical controls on moisture reaching South and High Asia from higher latitudes, and how will they change with warming climate?

Data and software

Much of the software and datasets created by BITMAP are freely available from the links below:


Publications arising from BITMAP are listed below and will be updated periodically. If you are not a subscriber to these journals, email me for an offprint.

  1. The impacts of climate change on the winter water cycle of the western Himalaya. K. M. R. Hunt, A. G. Turner and L. C. Shaffrey (2020). Climate Dynamics, 55: 2287-2307, published online 21 July 2020. |
    Some 180 million people depend on the Indus River as a key water resource, fed largely by precipitation falling over the western Himalaya. However, the projected response of western Himalayan precipitation to climate change is currently not well constrained: CMIP5 GCMs project a reduced frequency and vorticity of synoptic-scale systems impacting the area, but such systems would exist in a considerably moister atmosphere. In this study, a convection-permitting (4 km horizontal resolution) setup of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model is used to examine 40 cases of these synoptic-scale systems, known as western disturbances (WDs), as they interact with the western Himalaya. In addition to a present-day control run, three experiments are performed by perturbing the boundary and initial conditions to reflect pre-industrial, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 background climates respectively. It is found that in spite of the weakening intensity of WDs, net precipitation associated with them in future climate scenarios increases significantly; conversely there is no net change in precipitation between the pre-industrial and control experiments despite a significant conversion of snowfall in the pre-industrial experiment to rainfall in the control experiment, consistent with 25 the changes seen in historical observations. This shift from snowfall to rainfall has profound consequences on water resource management in the Indus Valley, where irrigation is dependent on spring meltwater. Flux decomposition shows that the increase in future precipitation follows directly from the projected moistening of the tropical atmosphere (which increases the moisture flux incident on the western Himalaya by 28%) overpowering the weakened dynamics (which decreases it by 20%). Changes to extreme rainfall events are also examined: it is found that such events may increase significantly in frequency in both future scenarios examined. Two-hour maxima rainfall events that currently occur in 1-in-8 WDs are projected to increase tenfold in frequency in the RCP8.5 scenario; more prolonged (one-week maxima) events are projected to increase fiftyfold.
  2. Water pathways for the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya and Analysis of Three Flood Events. R. Boschi and V. Lucarini (2019). Atmosphere, 10(9): 489. |
    The climatology of major sources and pathways of moisture for three locales along the Hindu-Kush-Himalayan region are examined, by use of Lagrangian methods applied to the ERA-Interim dataset, over the period from 1980 to 2016 for both summer (JJA) and winter (NDJ) periods. We also investigate the major flooding events of 2010, 2013, and 2017 in Pakistan, Uttarakhand, and Kathmandu, respectively, and analyse a subset of the climatology associated with the 20 most significant rainfall events over each region of interest. A comparison is made between the climatology and extreme events, in the three regions of interest, during the summer monsoon period. For Northern Pakistan and Uttarakhand, the Indus basin plays the largest role in moisture uptake. Moisture is also gathered from Eastern Europe and Russia. Extreme events display an increased influence of sub-tropical weather systems, which manifest themselves through low-level moisture transport; predominantly from the Arabian sea and along the Gangetic plain. In the Kathmandu region, it is found that the major moisture sources come from the Gangetic plain, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Bay of Bengal, and the Indus basin. In this case, extreme event pathways largely match those of the climatology, although an increased number of parcels originate from the western end of the Gangetic plain. These results provide insights into the rather significant influence of mid-latitudinal weather systems, even during the monsoon season, in defining the climatology of the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya region, as well as how extreme precipitation events in this region represent atypical moisture pathways. We propose a detailed investigation of how such water pathways are represented in climate models for the present climate conditions and in future climate scenarios, as this may be extremely relevant for understanding the impacts of climate change on the cryosphere and hydrosphere of the region.
  3. Falling trend of western disturbances in future climate simulations. K. M. R. Hunt, A. G. Turner and L. C. Shaffrey (2019). Journal of Climate, 32: 5037-5051, published online 24 May 2019. Authors' preprint | CEDA catalogue records RCP4.5 RCP8.5 / track data RCP4.5 RCP8.5 |
    JCLIM frontpage Western disturbances (WDs) are synoptic-scale cyclonic weather systems advected over Pakistan and north India by the subtropical westerly jet stream. There, they are responsible for most of the winter precipitation, crucial for agriculture of the rabi crop, as well as more extreme precipitation events, which can lead to local flooding and avalanches. Despite their importance, there has not yet been an attempt to objectively determine the fate of WDs in future climate GCMs. Here, a tracking algorithm is used to build up a catalogue of WDs in both CMIP5 historical and representative concentration pathway (RCP) experiments of the future. It is shown that in business-as-usual (RCP8.5) future climate simulations, WD frequency falls by around 10% by the end of the twenty-first century, with the largest relative changes coming in pre- and post-monsoon months. Meanwhile, mean WD intensity will decrease, with vorticity expected to become less cyclonic by about 8% over the same period. Changes in WD frequency can be attributed to the projected widening and poleward shift of the winter subtropical jet, whereas the changes in intensity are explained by decreasing meridional wind shear and mid-tropospheric baroclinic vorticity tendency. Finally, the impact of these changes on regional precipitation is explored. The decline in WD frequency and intensity will cause a decrease in mean winter rainfall over Pakistan and north India amounting to about 15% of the seasonal mean. The effect on extreme precipitation events, however, remains unclear.
  4. The role of the subtropical jet in deficient winter precipitation across the mid-Holocene Indus basin. K. M. R. Hunt and A. G. Turner (2019). Geophysical Research Letters, 46(10): 5452-5459, published online 20 May 2019. Authors' preprint |
    GRL frontpage The mid-Holocene (7-5 ka) was a period with an increased seasonal insolation cycle, resulting from decreased insolation during northern hemisphere winter. Here, a set of six CMIP5 models is used to show that the decreased insolation reduced the upper-tropospheric meridional temperature gradient, producing a weaker subtropical jet with less horizontal shear. These effects work to reduce the baroclinic and barotropic instability available for perturbations to grow, and in consequence, storm-tracking results show that there are fewer winter storms over India and Pakistan (known as western disturbances). These western disturbances are weaker, resulting in a reduction in winter precipitation of around 15% in the north Indus Basin. Combined with previous work showing greater northwestward extent of the Indian monsoon during the mid-Holocene, our GCM-derived results are consistent with the Indus Basin changing from a summer-growing season in the mid-Holocene to a winter-growing season in the present day.
  5. Representation of western disturbances in CMIP5 models. K. M. R. Hunt, A. G. Turner and L. C. Shaffrey (2019). Journal of Climate, 32(7): 1997-2011. Authors' preprint | CEDA catalogue record / CMIP5 historical track data |
    JCLIM frontpage Western disturbances (WDs) are synoptic extratropical disturbances embedded in the subtropical westerly jet stream. They are an integral part of the South Asian winter climate, both for the agriculture-supporting precipitation they bring to the region and for the associated isolated extreme events that can induce devastating flash flooding. Here, WD behaviour and impacts are characterised in 23 CMIP5 historical simulations and compared with reanalysis and observations. It is found that WD frequency has a strong relationship with model resolution: higher resolution models produce significantly more WDs, and a disproportionately high fraction of extreme events. Exploring metrics of jet strength and shape, we find that the most probable cause of this relationship is that the jet is wider in models with coarser resolution, and therefore the northern edge in which WDs are spun up sits too far north of India. The frequency of WDs in both winter and summer is found to be overestimated by most models, and thus the winter frequency of WDs estimated from the multi-model mean (30 winter-1) is above the reanalysis mean (26 winter-1). In this case, the error cannot be adequately explained by local jet position and strength. Instead, we show that it is linked with a positive bias in upstream mid-tropospheric baroclinicity. Despite a positive winter precipitation bias in CMIP5 models over most of India and Pakistan and a dry bias in the western Himalaya, the fraction of winter precipitation for which WDs are responsible is accurately represented. Using partial correlation, it is shown that the overestimation in WD frequency is the largest contributor to this bias, with a secondary, spatially heterogeneous contribution coming from the overestimation of WD intensity.
  6. Arctic summer sea-ice seasonal simulation with a coupled model: Evaluation of mean features and biases. P. P. Saheed, A. K Mitra, I. M. Momin, E. N. Rajagopal, H. T. Hewitt, A. B. Keen and S. F. Milton (2019). Journal of Earth System Science, 128(1):16. |
    Current state of the art weather/climate models are representation of the fully coupled aspects of the components of the earth system. Sea-ice is one of the most important components of these models. Simulation of sea-ice in these models is a challenging problem. In this study, evaluation of the hind-cast data of 14 boreal summer seasons with global coupled model HadGEM3 in its seasonal set-up has been performed over the Arctic region from 9th May start dates . Along with the biases of the sea-ice variables, related atmosphere and oceanic variables have also been examined. The model evaluation is focused on seasonal mean of sea-ice concentration, sea-ice thickness, ocean surface current, SST, ice-drift velocity and sea-ice extent. To diagnose the sea-ice biases, atmospheric variables like, 10 m wind, 2 m air temperature, sea-level pressure and ocean sub-surface temperatures were also examined. The sea-ice variables were compared with GIOMAS dataset. The atmospheric and the oceanic variables were compared with the ERA Interim and the ECMWF Ocean re-analysis (ORAP5) datasets, respectively. The model could simulate the sea-ice concentration and thickness patterns reasonably well in the Arctic Circle. However, both sea-ice concentration and thickness in the model are underestimated compared to observations. A positive (warm) bias is seen both in 2 m air temperature and SST, which are consistent with the negative sea-ice bias. Biases in ocean current and related ice drift are not related to biases in the atmospheric winds. The magnitude of the oceanic subsurface warm biases is seen to be gradually decreasing with depth, but consistent with sea-ice biases. These analyses indicate a possibility of deeper warm subsurface water in the western Arctic Ocean sector (Pacific and Atlantic exchanges) affecting the negative biases in the sea-ice at the surface. The model is able to simulate reasonably well the summer sea-ice melting process and its inter-annual variability, and has useable skill for application purpose.
  7. Subtropical Westerly Jet Influence on Occurrence of Western Disturbances and Tibetan Plateau Vortices. K. M. R. Hunt, J. Curio, A. G. Turner and R. Schiemann (2018). Geophysical Research Letters, 45(16): 8629-8636, published online 13 August 2018. Authors' preprint |
    Western disturbances (WDs) are midtropospheric to upper-tropospheric mesoscale vortices, which typically propagate along the subtropical westerly jet stream and bring heavy rainfall to Pakistan and northern India during boreal winter. They are dynamically similar to Tibetan Plateau vortices (TPVs), which affect southwest China during spring and summer and emanate from the Tibetan Plateau. Here we propose that their similarity implies the existence of a more general group of upper-tropospheric vortices featuring interactions with the orography of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya-Tibetan Plateau region. Using existing track databases for WDs and TPVs derived from ERA-Interim reanalysis, we show that their respective occurrence frequencies are highly anticorrelated with each other through the seasonal cycle, yet both are strongly correlated with jet latitude. Our findings imply that the incidence of hazards due to WDs and TPVs is correlated on intra-annual and interannual time scales, particularly through upper-level baroclinicity.
  8. Extreme daily rainfall in Pakistan and north India: scale-interactions, mechanisms, and precursors. K. M. R. Hunt, A. G. Turner and L. C. Shaffrey (2018). Monthly Weather Review, 146: 1005-1022, April 2018. Authors' preprint |
    While much of India is used to heavy precipitation and frequent low-pressure systems during the summer monsoon, towards the northwest and into Pakistan, such events are uncommon. Here, as much as a third of the annual rainfall is delivered sporadically during the winter monsoon by western disturbances. Such events of sparse but heavy precipitation in this region of typically mountainous valleys in the north and desert in the south can be catastrophic, as in the case of the Pakistan floods of July 2010. In this study, we identify extreme precipitation events (EPEs) in a box approximately covering this region (65-78°E, 25-38°N) using the APHRODITE gauge-based precipitation product. The role of the large-scale circulation in causing EPEs is investigated: it is found that, during winter, they often coexist with an upper-tropospheric Rossby wave train that has prominent anomalous southerlies over the region of interest. These winter EPEs are also found to be strongly colocated with incident western disturbances whereas those occurring during the summer are found to have a less direct relationship. Conversely, summer EPEs are found to have a strong relationship with tropical lows. A detailed Lagrangian method is used to explore possible sources of moisture for such events, and suggests that in winter, the moisture is mostly drawn from the Arabian Sea, whereas during the summer, it comes from along the African coast and the Indian monsoon trough region.
  9. The evolution, seasonality, and impacts of western disturbances. K. M. R. Hunt, A. G. Turner and L. C. Shaffrey (2018). Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 144(710): 278-290. Authors' preprint | CEDA catalogue record / ERA-Interim track data |
    Western disturbances (WDs) are upper-level synoptic-scale systems embedded in the subtropical westerly jet stream (STWJ), often associated with extreme rainfall events in north India and Pakistan during boreal winter. Here, a tracking algorithm is applied to the upper-tropospheric vorticity field in 37 years of ERA-Interim reanalysis data, giving a catalogue of over 3000 events. These events are analysed in a composite framework: the vertical structure is explored across a large number of dynamic and thermodynamic fields, revealing a significant northwestward tilt with height, strong ascent ahead of the centre which sits above the maximum surface precipitation and a warm-overcold, dry-over-moist structure among other signatures of strong baroclinicity. Evolution of the structures of cloud cover and vertical wind speed are investigated as the composite WD passes across northern India. Cloud cover in particular is found to be particularly sensitive to the presence of the Himalayan foothills, with a significant maximum at 300 hPa approximately one day after the WD reaches peak intensity. k-means clustering is used to classify WDs both according to dynamical structure and precipitation footprint, and the relationship between the two sets is explored. Finally, the statistical relationship between the STWJ position and WDs on interannual time scales is explored, showing that WD frequency in north India is highly sensitive to the jet location over Eurasia. Years with a greater number of WDs feature a STWJ shifted to the south, a pattern that is substantially more coherent and reaches as far west as North America during boreal winter. This suggests that it may be possible to predict the statistics of western disturbance events on seasonal time scales if suitable indicators of jet position can also be predicted.

Page constructed by Dr Andy Turner; last updated October 2020.