Geovisualization of Mountain Hydroclimatic Variability: Linkages Between Atmospheric Circulation and the Spatial Pattern of Precipitation Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Sugg, Johnathan
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography
  • The hydroclimatology of mountain regions is important for the world’s water resources, yet is poorly understood in the context of climate variability and change. Observations indicate that drought and heavy precipitation have increased throughout the mid-latitudes during the last century, and future projections show a continuation of these trends. Despite these predictions, our understanding of the physical processes and associated spatial patterns of precipitation in mountains is lacking. In order to make better predictions of hydroclimatic change in mountain regions, research is first needed to understand the relationship between atmospheric circulation and precipitation. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine this relationship in the southern Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern United States, a mid-latitude mountain region that exhibits much hydroclimatic variability. I use both established and innovative geovisualization techniques to reveal how topographic features mediate the relationship between large scale circulation and precipitation characteristics. First, I compare several types of statistical clustering algorithms to identify hydroclimatic regions based on commonalities in the type and frequency of summer rainfall. Second, a self-organizing map is used to classify and visualize patterns of synoptic-scale circulation variability. The identified patterns are then linked with daily precipitation characteristics across the different hydroclimatic and topographic regions. To increase the interpretability of the relationships between circulation and precipitation, I develop a new graphical representation for displaying simple spatial statistics of the precipitation characteristics across the self-organizing map output space. This research identifies areas across the landscape that are most susceptible and most resilient to extreme hydroclimatic events. Light precipitation events are most frequently observed across the highest elevations and plateaued regions, no matter which circulation pattern is present. In contrast, moderate and heavy precipitation events occur most frequently along the Blue Ridge and foothills regions, and are limited to a small subset of the circulation patterns. Ultimately, this dissertation shows how shifts in the large scale circulation, which are expected with climate change, are likely to alter the spatial footprint of precipitation events and their extremes across mountain catchments.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Konrad, Charles
  • Boyles, Ryan
  • Riveros-Iregui, Diego
  • Rickenbach, Thomas
  • Wise, Erika
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

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