Life Cycle of Atmospheric Rivers: Identification and Climatological Characteristics

Yang Zhou, Hyemi Kim, Bin Guan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


An atmospheric river (AR) event is a strong poleward moisture transport that is composed of a series of spatiotemporally connected instantaneous AR objects. A new object-based tracking algorithm is developed in this study, which aims to identify an AR event and investigate its life cycle from origin to termination. The algorithm identifies duration, intensity, propagation speed and direction, and the traveled distance throughout the life cycle of the AR event. The tracking algorithm is applied to 6-hourly column-integrated water vapor flux from November to March during the period of 1979–2017, with a focus on the North Pacific. Most North Pacific AR events originate in the subtropics over the Northwest Pacific and terminate at higher latitudes over the Northeast Pacific including western North America. On average, long AR events that last more than 72 hrs travel 7 times longer in distance and have stronger intensity than short AR events that last less than 24 hrs. Finally, a new accumulated AR intensity index is developed, which summarizes the overall impact of AR events over a given domain during a certain period by incorporating number, lifetime, and intensities of AR events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12,715-12,725
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number22
StatePublished - 27 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

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©2018. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • atmospheric rivers
  • life cycle
  • tracking algorithm


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