Modeling of Regional Hydroclimate Change over the Indian Subcontinent: Impact of the Expanding Thar Desert

M. Bollasina, S. Nigam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Thar Desert between northwestern India and Pakistan is the most densely populated desert region in the world, and the vast surrounding areas are affected by rapid soil degradation and vegetation loss. The impact of an expanded desert (implemented by changing vegetation type and related greenness fraction, albedo, surface roughness length, emissivity, among others) on the South Asian summer monsoon hydroclimate is investigated by means of 7-month, 4-member ensemble sensitivity experiments with the Weather Research and Forecasting model. It is found that extended desertification significantly affects the monsoon at local and large scales. Locally, the atmospheric water cycle weakens because precipitation, evaporation, and atmospheric moisture convergence all decrease; soil moisture and runoff reduce too. Air temperature cools because of an increase in albedo (the desert makes the area brighter) and a reduction of surface turbulent fluxes; the cooling is partially offset by adiabatic descent, generated to maintain thermodynamic balance and originating at the northern flank of the low-level anticyclone forced by desert subsidence. Regionally, an anomalous northwesterly flow over the Indo-Gangetic Plain weakens the monsoon circulation over northeastern India, causing precipitation to decrease and the formation of an anomalous anticyclone in the region. As a result, the middle troposphere cools because of a decrease in latent heat release, but the ground heats up because of a reduction in cloudiness. At larger scale, the interaction between the anomalous circulation and the mountains leads to an increase in precipitation over the eastern Himalayas and Indochina. The findings of this study reveal that the expansion of the Thar Desert can lead to a pronounced and largescale impact on summermonsoon hydroclimate, with a potential to redistribute precious water over South Asia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3089-3106
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


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