A Long-term synoptic-scale climate study over Mariepskop, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Keywords:Lowveld, global warming, climate change, mountain climate, Mariepskop
Mariepskop forms part of the northernmost edge of the Drakensberg Mountain range and is known for its complex topography associated with meso-scale atmospheric circulation, and therefore its numerous climatic zones. The mountain hosts a high biodiversity. The peak of Mariepskop lies at approximately 1900m Above Mean Sea Level (AMSL), which is higher than the surrounding escarpment to the east. Its foothills also extend well into the Lowveld at about 700 m AMSL. Mariepskop is therefore ideal for studying airflow exchange between the industrial Highveld and the Lowveld with its diversity of natural resources. It is also ideal for detecting global warming signals on altitudinal gradients extending from the Lowveld to altitudes above the Highveld escarpment. In this study long-term National Centre for Atmospheric Research / National Centre for Environmental Prediction (NCAR/NCEP) wind data at two atmospheric pressure levels (850 and 700 hPa), as well as near-surface temperature data, were obtained for the Mariepskop region for the summer (December-January-February: DJF (1981-2011 )) and winter (June-July-August: JJA (1980-2012)) seasons. The data was used to study synoptic wind flow across the mountain in the upper (700 hPa) and lower (800 hPa) atmosphere, as well as near-surface temperature gradients. During the summer season, east-south-easterly and south-easterly winds were found to be the most prominent. These winds are commonly associated with both continental and ridging anticyclonic conditions. During winter, the predominant wind direction at 850 hPa is south-easterly, which is also due to the influence of ridging anticyclones, while at 700 hPa the dominant winter wind direction becomes west-south-west, which is due to the more frequent eastward passing of cyclonic frontal systems across the Highveld towards the Lowveld. Long-term near-surface temperatures exhibit a weak increasing linear temperature trend for both seasons, which might be due to global warming.
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