EarthWord: Katabatic Winds

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Sounding almost like acrobatic winds, katabatic winds do bear a resemblance to tumbling, since they are essentially winds that flow downhill. Also known as fall winds, katabatic winds are usually caused by gravity pulling higher density air downslope to lower density air.

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A map of the McMurdo Valleys in Antarctica, where katabatic winds occur.
Locations of streamgages in the Taylor Valley, Antarctica.

Definition:

  • Sounding almost like acrobatic winds, katabatic winds do bear a resemblance to tumbling, since they are essentially winds that flow downhill. Also known as fall winds, katabatic winds are usually caused by gravity pulling higher density air downslope to lower density air.

Etymology:

  • From the Greek “katabatos,” meaning “descending.”

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • Katabatic winds often result from cool, denser air moving downhill towards warmer, less dense air. Because of this, they affect local climates, even reducing humidity in the air and blowing away snow.

USGS Use:

  • While studying snowfall accumulation in places like the McMurdo valleys in Antarctica, USGS researchers had to account for katabatic winds that had reduced the amount of snow in the valleys so much that they’re known as “dry valleys.”

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