Article

Climatic Change

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 35-54

First online:

Climatic change over the Lowveld of South Africa

  • S. J. MasonAffiliated withClimatology Research Group, University of the Witwatersrand

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Abstract

There has been a 38% decrease in expected annual rainfall totals over the Lowveld, in the eastern part of South Africa, during the last two decades. The downward trend in mean annual rainfall is not replicated in the rest of the summer rainfall region above the escarpment. Rainfall variability over the Lowveld has been increasing since about the 1950s, although the increase in variability appears to have been slowing down in more recent years. Changes in the frequency and intensity of El Niño/Southern Oscillation extreme events are only partly responsible for the observed desiccation and increase in rainfall variability. The CSIRO 9-level general circulation model simulates, for 2 × CO2 conditions, an insignificant decrease of 10% in the annual mean and a slight increase in the inter-annual variability of rainfall over the Lowveld. Other general circulation models likewise simulate only small changes in annual mean rainfall over the region. However, the simulated increase in rainfall variability by the CSIRO 9-level model is likely to be conservative since the model, being linked to a slab ocean, is unable to represent important features of ocean-atmosphere coupling in the region. Significant changes in the frequencies of extreme drought events and of heavy rains in the Lowveld are likely to occur even with only small changes in the rainfall climatology of the region.