"Atmospheric Rivers" Explained as Cause of Latest Storms

New scientific advances over the last 10 years, many taking place right in Sonoma County, are transforming an understanding of storms and flooding on the West Coasts of the US, Canada, Europe and South America.

Dr. Marty Ralph, Chief of the Water Cycle Branch at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory/Physical Sciences Division in Boulder, Colorado, was at SSU in September to explain the dynamic process of "atmospheric rivers" which were the focal point of the latest storms hitting the North Bay this past week.

His lecture and video - called Atmospheric Rivers: The Emerging Science of Flooding in the Russian River Watershed - was part of the WaterWorks lecture series held during the Science 120 fall semester course for first-time freshmen, immersing them in real-world issues of environmental sustainability.

The lecture series explores wide-ranging issues of environmental sustainability through specific issues in the Russian River watershed and is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

New technology (for example, radars, unmanned aircraft, satellite, etc.) now allows us to observe and track atmospheric rivers, vast ribbons of air in the sky that often carry as much water vapor as 10 times the equivalent discharge of liquid water by the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico.

Ralph provided an introduction to these "rivers in the sky" and discusses how this concept is being used to evaluate and improve short-term precipitation forecasting and could lead to improved regional climate projections of flooding and water supplies in the Russian River Watershed.

Ralph is a research meteorologist whose work focuses on understanding the physical processes that cause extreme rain events, prototyping methods for improving weather predictions, and advancing climate projections.

He has published over 60 scientific articles and has led the NOAA Hydrometeorology Testbed (HMT), which has explored the causes of extreme events in the Russian River watershed and accelerated the infusion of new science and technology into weather and climate forecasting.

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