Say my name: the polarising name of atmospheric rivers

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Few meteorological terms have caused such debate as Atmospheric Rivers (ARs). ARs were proposed in 1992, but a formal definition for ARs was only developed in 2015 following the observational campaigns of the 2000s that led to a deeper physical understanding. ARs can cause extreme rainfall, flooding, landslides, damaging winds, glacier melt, and even polar heatwaves. Despite their well-documented global impacts, there has been relatively little research on this phenomenon in Australia. Compound events involving ARs led to the devastating 2021 and 2022 flooding in eastern Australia. The media were drawn to the metaphor of a ‘river in sky’ but the term has not been embraced by our national weather service, and some scientists still question their existence. This essay explores the controversy of the name Atmospheric River and highlights what could be achieved if we focused less on the name and more on the science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-113
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Geographer
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Atmospheric river
  • Australia
  • extreme rainfall
  • flooding
  • observations
  • terminology

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