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The Relentless Rain: East Asia's Recent Floods and What Lies Beneath​
View : 1804 Date : 2023-12-05 Writer : PR Office

In just a month's time, East Asia witnessed torrential downpours that would usually span an entire season. Japan, battered by three times its usual monthly rainfall, faced landslides and flooding that claimed over 200 lives. Meanwhile, South Korea grappled with its longest monsoon in seven years, leaving more than 40 individuals dead or missing. But these events, as harrowing as they sound, are more than just weather anomalies. They're telltale signs, symptoms of a larger malaise that has gripped our planet.


Diving deep into these rain-soaked mysteries, a recently published paper in the journal Science Advances offers a fresh perspective. Led by a research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Korea, the research unpacks the influence of human-induced climate changes on the East Asia Summer Monsoon frontal system.


Heavy summer rain has a significant impact on agriculture and industry, and can be said to be one of the greatest threats to human society by causing disasters such as floods and landslides, affecting the local ecosystem. It has been reported from all over the world that the intensity of summer heavy rain has changed over the past few decades. However, summer rain in East Asia is caused by various forms such as typhoons, extratropical cyclones, and fronts, and efforts to study heavy frontal rain, which account for more than 40% of summer rainfall, is still insufficient. In addition, because heavy rain is also influenced by natural fluctuations or coincidences in the climate system, it is not yet known to what extent warming due to human activities affects the intensity of heavy frontal precipitation.


An international joint research team consisting of eight institutions from Korea, the United States, and Japan, including KAIST, Tokyo University, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Chonnam National University, GIST, and Utah State University, confirmed the intensity of heavy rain caused by the weather fronts in East Asia using observation data for the past 60 years and found that the coast of southeastern China. It was found that the intensity of heavy rain increased by about 17% across the Korean Peninsula and Japan. To investigate the cause of these changes, the research team used the Earth Metaverse experiment, which simulated Earth with and without greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities, and found that heavy rain intensity was strengthened by about 6% due to greenhouse gas emissions, and the changes discovered were has succeeded for the first time in the world in showing that warming cannot be explained without the effects of human activities.


< Figure 1. (Left) Observed difference in frontal rainfall intensity (FRI) from the later (1991–2015) to the earlier periods (1958–1982) (Right) Visualization of the impact of anthropogenic warming on the intensity of heavy frontal rain analyzed using the Earth Metaverse experiment. >


"It's not just about connecting the dots," said Moon, the first author of the paper, "it's about seeing the larger pattern. Our data analysis reveals a clear and intensified trend in East Asia's frontal rainfall, one that's intertwined with human actions and increasingly harmful for lives and property."


One of the intriguing finds from the study is the mechanics behind this intensification. The team found increased moisture transport due to a warmer climate, which, when coupled with the strengthening of a gigantic weather system called the West North Pacific Subtropical High, results in enhanced frontal rainfall. It’s akin to the climate dialing up the volume on rain events. As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture, leading to heavier downpours when conditions are right.


Nobuyuki Utsumi, another voice from the team, makes the science accessible for all, saying, "Monsoon rain isn't just rain anymore. The frequency, the intensity, it's changing. And our actions, our carbon footprint, are casting a larger shadow than we anticipated."


While the devastating news of floods fills headlines, Professor Simon Wang of Utah State University, reminds us of the underlying importance of their study. "It's like reading a detective novel. To solve the mystery of these floods, one has to trace them back to their roots. This work hints at a future where such intense rain events aren't the exception but might become an everyday reality."


Hyungjun Kim, the principal investigator of the team throws in a note of caution, "Understanding this is just the first step. Predicting and preparing for these extremes is the real challenge. Every amplified rainfall event is a message from the future, urging us to adapt." So far, predicting rainfall intensity and locations remains a challenging task for even the most sophisticated weather models.


< Figure 2. Comparison of rates of change in Anthropocene fingerprints. The horizontal axis shows the long-term change slope of the Anthropocene fingerprint signal (1958 to 2015). Shows the probability distribution of slopes extracted from the non-warming experiment (blue) and the warming experiment (red). The vertical solid lines are the slope of the Anthropocene fingerprint signal extracted from observational data. >


The researchers say, “Facing climate change, the narrative of this new study is more than mere numbers and data. It's a story of our planet, our actions, and the rain-soaked repercussions we're beginning to face. As we mop up the aftermath of another flood, research like Moon's beckons us to look deeper, understand better, and act wiser.”


< Figure 3. Comparison of water vapor convergence and rate of change of the western North Pacific high pressure. Shows the gradient of change in water vapor convergence (horizontal axis) and the Northwestern Pacific-East Asia pressure gradient (vertical axis) extracted from warming (red) and non-warming (blue) experiments. Shows the distribution of slope changes of the two indices during the period 1958 to 1982 (P1) and 1991 to 2015 (P2). >


The results of this study were published on November 24 in Science Advances. (Paper title: Anthropogenic warming induced intensification of summer monsoon frontal precipitation over East Asia)


This research was conducted with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea's Overseas Scientist Attraction Project (BP+) and the Anthropocene Research Center.

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