Probing regional orographic controls of precipitation and cloudiness in the Central Andes using satellite data

Jason P. Giovannettone, Ana P. Barros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Data obtained from NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) and NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellites were used to investigate the relationships between topography, large-scale circulation, and the climatology of precipitation and cloudiness in the Andes - specifically over Peru and the Altiplano Plateau - at diurnal, seasonal, and interannual time scales. The spatial variability of cloudiness was assessed through empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis of GOES brightness temperatures. Results indicate that landform is the principal agent of the space-time variability of moist atmospheric processes in the Andes, with the first mode explaining up to 70% of all observed variability. These results substantiate the differences between "continental" (Andes and Himalayas) and "maritime" (Western Cordillera) orographic precipitation regimes, reflecting the degree to which upwind landmasses modulate moisture transport toward and across mountain barriers. GOES brightness temperatures show that afternoon convective activity during the rainy season is more intense on wet hydrometeorological years such as 2001, whereas the space-time structure of nighttime cloudiness at the foothills and outlets of deep interior valleys does not change during the monsoon and from one year to another independently of large-scale conditions. This suggests that daytime cloud formation and precipitation is strongly dependent on large-scale moisture transport. Interactions between mesoscale and ridge-valley circulations, which are locked to the topography, determine the space-time organization of clouds and precipitation at nighttime. This leads to strong clustering of precipitation features associated with enhanced convection at high elevations along the ridges and near the headwaters of the major river systems in the TRMM data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-182
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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