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Imaggeo on Mondays: Nor’Wester in the Southern Alps of New Zealand

Imaggeo on Mondays: Nor’Wester in the Southern Alps of New Zealand

Stephan Winkler’s 2017 Imaggeo Photo Contest finalist photo showcases an unusual weather phenomenon…

The image shows a typical weather situation in the Southern Alps of New Zealand with a moist, westerly airflow pushing over the Main Divide [which separates the water catchments of the more heavily populated eastern side of the island from those on the west coast] to create a typical foehn wind [dry and warm winds which form on the downside of a mountain range] pattern (locally called Nor’Wester) in the region. Immediately west of this Main Divide, annual precipitation of up to 15,000 mm has been estimated.

The upper part of Tasman Glacier, as other glaciers around and immediately east of the Main Divide, receive impressive amounts of snow due to an overspill effect and can still be regarded as maritime.

In the image, however, the situation is displayed when right at the Main Divide the clouds disappear due to increasing temperatures when flowing over the Divide. The foehn wind developing with such weather pattern can be very strong. However, the image nicely shows how the glaciation of the central Southern Alps is influence by the availability of moisture and the dynamic character of the regional climate.

Description by Stephan Winkler (Senior Lecturer in Quaternary Geology and Palaeoclimatology at the University of Canterbury), as published previously on imaggeo.egu.eu

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

 

Imaggeo on Mondays: Aoraki & a round-up of the latest New Zealand earthquake news

Imaggeo on Mondays: Aoraki & a round-up of the latest New Zealand earthquake news

On Sunday the 13th November, New Zealand’s South Island was struck by a powerful 7.8 M earthquake. Initial analysis by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that the source of the tremor was faulting on or near the boundary between the Pacific and Australia plates. A tsunami alert (no longer active) was triggered following the earthquake, with risk of tsunami waves along coastal areas. The maximum wave high recorded by a gauge at Kaikoura, 181 km north of Christchurch, was 2.5m, according to Weatherwatch.co.nz.

The collision of the two plates is also responsible for the formation of the Alpine Fault, which runs along the western flank of the Southern Alps, (Kā Tiritiri o te Moana). The mountain range runs 500km along the South Island, explains Katrina Sauer on our open access image repository, Imaggeo.  In addition, the Alpine Fault is responsible for the uplift of this impressive mountain range. Sunkissed by a setting sun (pictured above), Aoraki/Mt. Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand (3,724 m). Katrina took the beautiful picture from Mueller Hut.

For more information about yesterday’s earthquake, as well as photographs which depict the staggering aftermath of the tremors see the list of links below (by no means exhaustive):

For some of the latest news about the earthquake, you might also follow the #eqnz  and  #nzearthquake on Twitter. For details about New Zealand geology and why and how it’s tremors are triggered, you can follow Chris Rowan  (@Allochthonous), Jascha Polet (@CPPGeophysics), @IRIS_EPO (particularly good for teaching resources for kids), and Anthony Lomax (@ALomaxNet) (among many other  great scientists!).

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

GeoSciences Column: The ‘dirty weather’ diaries of Reverend Richard Davis

GeoSciences Column: The ‘dirty weather’ diaries of Reverend Richard Davis

Researching the Earth’s climate of the past, helps scientists make better predictions about how the climate and our environment will continue to be affected by, change and adapt to rising temperatures.

One of the most invaluable sources of data, when it comes to understanding the Earth’s past climate, are historical meteorological records.

Accounts of weather and climate conditions for the Southern Hemisphere, prior to the 1850s, are particularly sparse. This makes the recently discovered, painstakingly detailed and richly descriptive weather diaries of a 19th Century missionary in New Zealand, incredibly valuable.

Researchers from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, In Auckland (New Zealand), poured over the contents of the diaries, which provide an eyewitness account to the end of the Little Ice Age (between 1300 and the 1870s winter temperatures – particularly in the Norther Hemisphere- were lower than those experienced throughout the 20th Century). The journals reveal that 19th century New Zealand experienced cooler winter temperatures and more dominant southerly winds when compared to the present day climatic conditions. The researchers present these and other findings in the open access journal of the EGU, Climate of the Past.

Print of a photomechanical portrait of Reverend Richard Davis taken ca. 1860, from the file print collection, Box 16. Ref: PAColl-7344-97, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, sourced from http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23073407 (From A. M. Lorrey et al., 2016).

Print of a photomechanical portrait of Reverend Richard Davis taken ca. 1860, from the file print collection, Box 16. Ref:
PAColl-7344-97, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, sourced from http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23073407 (From A. M. Lorrey et al., 2016).

The diaries were kept by Reverend Richard Davis, born in Dorset (England) in 1790. The Reverend was associated to the Church Mission Society (CMS) of England; an connection which lead him to settle in the blustery Northland Peninsula in the far north of New Zealand, back in 1831.

From 1839 to 1844, and then again from 1848 to 1851, Davis collected over 13,000 meteorological measurements and made detailed notes about the condition of the local environment.

The Reverend’s collection of data is remarkable, not only for its detail, but also because it is the earliest record of land-based meteorological measurements from New Zealand found to date.

He took twice daily temperature measurements – one at 9 a.m. and one at 12 noon – as well as noon pressure measurements. Qualitative observations included information about wind direction and strength, as well as detailed cloud cover descriptions, and notes on the occurrence of hail, frost, rainfall, snowfall, thunderstorms, lightning, sunsets and behavior of wildlife.

The journals also reveal that the Reverend was not keen on particularly gloomy days, when the winds were strong and blustery, cloud cover hung low and was often accompanied by rain.  On 67 separate occasions, Davis’ used the term “dirty weather” to described days like this.

It is important to assess the reliability of the measurements taken by Davis before drawing comparisons between 19th and 20th Century weather patterns for the island of the long white cloud; and especially if the data are to be integrated within past climate and weather reconstructions for New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere.

To do so, the Auckland based researchers, compared the Reverend’s pressure measurements with observations made by ships travelling through New Zealand waters or stationed on the island (usually completing military operations), during the same time interval. The Reverend’s daily pressure observations are regularly lower (on average by -0:64 ± 0:10 inches of mercury) than those taken on board the ships. The offset is consistent with the change in altitude between the ships anchored in harbour versus the land-based measurements made by Davis; meaning the Reverend’s pressure measurements are robust.

Reverend Richard Davis pressure observation vs. expedition measurements (leader noted in parentheses) from USS Vincennes (Wilkes), the corvettes Astrolabe and Zelee (d’Urville) and the HMS Erebus (Ross). There are 29 pairs of daily observations and so the x axis simply shows the comparisons of Davis’ record to the three ships in a sequence with the specific intervals noted. (From A. M. Lorrey et al., 2016).

Reverend Richard Davis pressure observation vs. expedition measurements (leader noted in parentheses) from USS Vincennes (Wilkes), the corvettes Astrolabe and Zelee (d’Urville) and the HMS Erebus (Ross). There are 29 pairs of daily observations and so the x axis simply shows the comparisons of Davis’ record to the three ships in a sequence with the specific intervals noted. (From A. M. Lorrey et al., 2016).

There is no similar test which would verify the accuracy of Davis’ temperature measurements. However, the researchers argue that the (expected) annual cycles evident in his measurements, as well as the reliability of his other records mean that, at least some, of his readings are faithful to the local conditions. Not only that, Davis’ mean winter temperature anomalies are comparable to the temperatures reconstructed from tree rings and can be used by the researchers to gather information about the local atmospheric circulation at the time.

When compared to modern-day temperature measurements (from the Virtual Climate Station Network, VCSN), the journal data reveals that mid 1800s winters, at the far north of the island, were cooler. At present, atmospheric circulation over Northland means winds from the southwest are common, especially during the winter and spring. During the summer, easterly winds become dominant. There is a higher frequency of records of south and southwesterly winds in Davis’ diaries. Reconstructions of atmospheric flow over New Zealand in the 1800s, made with proxy tree-ring and coral data, also point towards more frequent south and southwesterly winds and cooler temperatures.

Not only that, the timing of monthly and seasonal climate anomalies, recorded both in tree-ring and the Davis diary data suggest that El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-like conditions existed, in New Zealand, during the 1839-1851 time period. However, more work (and data) is needed in Australasia to corroborate the findings and define the extent of the ENSO conditions at the time.

With more data, better reconstructions of the atmospheric conditions in the southwest Pacific and Southern Hemisphere can be made. Combined with the newly found Davis’ records, these will make an important impact to the understanding of past weather and climate in the region.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

The Waimate North mission house in the Far North of New Zealand where Davis lived (From: A. M. Lorrey et al., 2016).

The Waimate North mission house in the Far North of New Zealand where Davis lived (From: A. M. Lorrey et al., 2016).

References

Lorrey, A. M. and Chappell, P. R.: The “dirty weather” diaries of Reverend Richard Davis: insights about early colonial-era meteorology and climate variability for northern New Zealand, 1839–1851, Clim. Past, 12, 553-573, doi:10.5194/cp-12-553-2016, 2016.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Foehn clouds

This week’s post is brought to you by Stefan Winkler, a Senior Lecturer in Quaternary Geology & Palaeoclimatology, who explains how the mountain tops of the Southern Alps become decorated by beautiful blanket-like cloud formations.

The Sothern Alps of New Zealand are a geoscientifically dynamic environment in all aspects. They are arguably one of the youngest high mountain ranges in the world formed at the plate tectonic boundary between the Australian and the Pacific Plate. Their dominating tectonic structure, the Alpine Fault running some 600 km mainly parallel to the mountain ranges of New Zealand’s South Island, caused not only an impressive horizontal displacement of rock formations, but also an overall vertical uplift of estimated c. 20 km during the past 10 – 15 Million years. Aoraki/Mt.Cook visible in the left background on the image with its height of ‘only’ 3724 m a.s.l. is the highest peak of the mountain range that is currently uplifted by 4 – 5 mm per year. Together with reconstructed uplift rates of up to 10 mm per year for the centre of the Southern Alps this indication how efficient and important weathering and erosion processes are in this region.

Foehn clouds over Aoraki/Mt.Cook. Credit: Stefan Winkler (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Foehn clouds over Aoraki/Mt.Cook. Credit: Stefan Winkler (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The ranges of the Southern Alps rise just 10 – 15 km inland the West Coast of the South Island as a wall parallel to the coast line up to 3,000 metres and more. They are a major topographic obstacle for the predominantly westerly airflow and provide a classic example of how ‘föhn’ winds are generated along mountain ranges perpendicular to an air flow. Föhn winds are dry and warm, forming on the downside of a mountain range. On the western slopes of the Southern Alps, orographic precipitation amounts to impressive 5,000 mm at the base and 10,000 mm + on in the high-lying accumulation areas of the mountain glaciers concentrating around the Main Divide. At and east of the Main Divide this locally named ‘Nor’wester’ creates impressive foehn clouds (altocumulus lenticularis, hogback clouds, seen in this week’s Imaggeo on Mondays image) that form in waves parallel to the Main Divide and are often streamlined by the high wind speed. The frequent occurrence of strong and warm Nor’westers contributes to the sharp decline of precipitation immediately east of the Main Divide.

The foreground of the image displays another aspect of this dynamic environment: the current wastage and retreat of glaciers in New Zealand. The section of the proglacial lake with its sediment-laden greyish water colour on the image would still have been covered by the debris-covered lower glacier tongue of Mueller Glacier only 15 years ago. Now, the terminus has retread to a position to the left outside the image. The lake is bounded by the glacier’s lateral moraine – unconsolidated accumulations of rock and soil debris resulting from weathering of the rock walks surrounding a glacire – that are more than 120 m high from base to top (or crest, to give it its technical name) and were last overtopped during the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ when the glacier surface reached higher than its crest. At this glacier, the maximum of this Little Ice Age has been dated to 1720/30, but as late as during the late 20th century it remained close to its frontal maximum position and had only shrunk vertically. Today the lateral moraines are heavily reworked and eroded by paraglacial processes following the latest vertical and horizontal ice retreat. In some places on Mueller Glacier’s foreland the crest of lateral moraines retreat up to 1 m per year back and give again evidence of a very dynamic geo-ecosystem.

By Stefan Winkler, Senior Lecturer in Quaternary Geology and Palaeoclimatology at the Univeristy of Canterbury.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

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