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Keywords:

  • precipitation;
  • moisture transport;
  • Ethiopia;
  • Horn of Africa

Abstract

The Ethiopian summer rains occur as air masses of various origins converge above the Ethiopian plateau. In this study, the relative importance of different moisture transport branches has been estimated using the Lagrangian trajectory model FLEXPART, and ERA-Interim reanalysis data, to backtrack air reaching the northern Ethiopian highlands in July–August 1998–2008. The Indian Ocean, the Congo Basin and the Red Sea were found to be important moisture source regions; for air from the Indian Ocean aided by a considerable moisture uptake along routes across the African continent. The following main transport branches were identified: (1) Flow from the Gulf of Guinea, (2) Flow from the Indian Ocean, and (3) Flow from the north; from the Mediterranean region across the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula. The largest contribution to the moisture transport into, and release of moisture within, the northern Ethiopian highlands, was associated with air traveling from the Indian Ocean and from the north. This was partly due to the relatively high mean specific humidity of this air, and partly because a large proportion of the air that reaches the highlands, follows these routes. As a total, the amount of moisture brought into the highlands from the north is 46% higher than from the south, whereas the contribution to moisture release within the highlands is about equal for air coming from the south and from the north. While previous studies have emphasized the importance of the Gulf of Guinea, we find that despite the high specific humidity of the low-level flow of air from the Gulf of Guinea, the amount of moisture carried into and released within the northern Ethiopian highlands through this branch, is much smaller than from the other branches—about 1/8 of that from the Indian Ocean. This is due to the fact that normally only a small proportion of the air reaching Ethiopia comes from the Gulf of Guinea. Copyright © 2011 Royal Meteorological Society