, Volume 34, Issue 6, pp 835-845
Date: 31 Jan 2009

Local and remote causes of the southern Australian autumn-winter rainfall decline, 1958–2007

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Abstract

The 1958–2007 decline in March–August rainfall over southern Australia (south of 30°S) is very closely related to an increase in surface atmospheric pressure over Australia. Sea surface temperatures around northern Australia are strongly correlated with southern Australian rainfall but the recent warming of the ocean should have led to increased rainfall rather than the observed rainfall decline. The relationships between the rainfall and indices of several modes of the atmosphere/ocean system are investigated to determine a cause of the rainfall decline. Indices of the modes that only use data remote from the Australian region are used to avoid the possibility that a relationship between the mode and Australian rainfall is simply reflecting the behaviour of “local” portions of the index. Thus a climate mode index that incorporates Australian pressure would, of course, be related to southern Australian rainfall, even if the remote parts of the mode were unrelated to Australian rainfall. Unless the remote contributions to the mode index were also related to Australian rainfall it seems physically unrealistic to consider that the mode, per se, was affecting Australian rainfall (rather than simply reflecting the influence of the local pressure changes). The rainfall decline does not appear to be explainable by a change in the behaviour of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (remote indices of this phenomenon do not exhibit a trend over this period) or the Indian Ocean Dipole (which is not strongly correlated with Australian rainfall on detrended data). The strong 1958–2007 trend in the southern annular mode (SAM) appears able to explain much of the rainfall decline since its year-to-year variations are correlated with year-to-year variations in southern Australian rainfall, and the sense of the correlation and the SAM trend would lead to a decline in rainfall (and an increase in pressure over Australia). The observed trend in SAM can reproduce over 70% of the observed rainfall trend. All these conclusions also apply to the rainfall declines in the southeast and southwest sub-regions.