Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are long, narrow filamentary structures that transport large amounts of moisture in the lower layers of the atmosphere, typically from subtropical regions to mid-latitudes. ARs play an important role in regional hydroclimate by supplying significant amounts of precipitation that can alleviate drought, or in extreme cases, produce dangerous floods. Accurately detecting, or tracking, ARs is important not only for weather forecasting, but is also necessary to understand how these events may change under global warming. Detection algorithms are used on both regional and global scales, and most accurately, using high resolution datasets, or model output.
Different detection algorithms can produce different answers. Detection algorithms found in the current literature fall broadly into two categories: “time-stitching”, where the AR is tracked with a Lagrangian approach through time and space; and “counting”, where ARs are identified for a single point in time for a single location. Counting routines can be further subdivided into algorithms that use absolute thresholds with specific geometry, to algorithms that use relative thresholds, to algorithms based on statistics, to pattern recognition and machine learning techniques. With such a large diversity in detection code, differences in AR tracking and “counts” can vary widely from technique to technique. Uncertainty increases for future climate scenarios, where the difference between relative and absolute thresholding produce vastly different counts, simply due to the moister background state in a warmer world.
In an effort to quantify the uncertainty associated with tracking algorithms, the AR detection community has come together to participate in ARTMIP, the Atmospheric River Tracking Method Intercomparison Project. Each participant will provide AR metrics to the greater group by applying their code to a common reanalysis dataset. MERRA2 data was chosen for both temporal and spatial resolution. After completion of this first phase, Tier 1, ARTMIP participants may choose to contribute to Tier 2, which will range from reanalysis uncertainty, to analysis of future climate scenarios from high resolution model output. ARTMIP’s experimental design, techniques, and preliminary metrics will be presented.