AskDefine | Define orographic

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of or pertaining to the physical features of mountains, or to orography
  2. Of or pertaining to the effects of mountains on weather

Extensive Definition

Orography is the average height of land, measured in geopotential meters, over a certain domain. In geoscientific models, such as general circulation models, orography defines the lower boundary (except where there is ocean, of course). Because orography is spatially averaged, for example the height of the Himalaya mountains will depend on horizontal resolution. The higher the horizontal resolution, the better the orography will follow the actual terrain.
When a river's tributaries or settlements by the river are listed in 'orographic sequence', they are in order from the highest (nearest the source of the river) to the lowest or mainstem (nearest the mouth). This method of listing tributaries is the opposite of the Strahler Stream Order, where the headwater tributaries are listed as category = 1.


Orographic precipitation, also known as relief precipitation, is precipitation generated by a forced upward movement of air upon encountering a physiographic upland (see anabatic wind). This lifting can be caused by two mechanisms: 1) The upward deflection of large scale horizontal flow by the Orography. 2) The anabatic or upward vertical propagation of moist air up an orographic slope caused by daytime heating of the mountain barrier surface. Upon ascent, the air that is being lifted will expand and cool. This adiabatic cooling of a rising moist air parcel may lower it's temperature to its dew point, thus allowing for condensation of the water vapor contained within it, and hence the formation of a cloud. If enough water vapor condenses into cloud droplets, these droplets may become large enough to fall to the ground as precipitation. In parts of the world subjected to relatively consistent winds (for example the trade winds), a wetter climate prevails on the windward side of a mountain than on the leeward (downwind) side as moisture is removed by orographic precipitation. Drier air (see katabatic wind) is left on the descending, generally warming, leeward side where a rain shadow is formed.
Terrain induced precipitation is a major factor for meteorologists as they forecast the local weather. Orography can play a major role in the type, amount, intensity and duration of precipitation events. Researchers have discovered that barrier width, slope steepness and updraft speed are major contributors for the optimal amount and intensity of orographic precipitation. Computer model simulations for these factors showed that narrow barriers and steeper slopes produced stronger updraft speeds which, in turn, enhanced orographic precipitation.
Orographic precipitation is well known on oceanic islands, such as the Hawaiian Islands or New Zealand, where much of the rainfall received on an island is on the windward side, and the leeward side tends to be quite dry, almost desert-like, by comparison. This phenomenon results in substantial local gradients of average rainfall, with coastal areas receiving on the order of 20 to 30 inches (500 to 750 mm) per year, and interior uplands receiving over 100 inches (2,500 mm) per year. Leeward coastal areas are especially dry—less than 20 in (500 mm) per year at Waikiki—and the tops of moderately high uplands are especially wet—about 475 in (12,000 mm) per year at Wai'ale'ale on Kaua'i.
Another well known area for Orographic precipitation is the Pennines in the north of England where the west side of the Pennines receives more rain than the east because the clouds (generally arriving from the west) are forced up and over the hills and cause the rain to fall preferentially on the western slopes. This is particularly noticeable between Manchester (West) and Leeds (East) where Leeds receives less rain due to a rain shadow of 12 miles from the Pennines.

See also


orographic in Bulgarian: Орография
orographic in Catalan: Orografia
orographic in German: Orografie
orographic in Spanish: Orografía
orographic in Italian: Orografia
orographic in Dutch: Orografie
orographic in Norwegian: Orografi
orographic in Norwegian Nynorsk: Orografi
orographic in Polish: Orografia
orographic in Portuguese: Orografia
orographic in Slovak: Orografia
orographic in Russian: Орография
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