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The ENSO-Australian rainfall teleconnection in reanalysis and CMIP5


Australian rainfall is strongly influenced by El Niño-southern oscillation (ENSO). The relationship between ENSO and rainfall in eastern Australia is non-linear; the magnitude of La Niña events has a greater effect on rainfall than does the magnitude of El Niño events, and the cause of the non-linearity is unclear from previous work. The twentieth century reanalysis succeeds in capturing the asymmetric ENSO-rainfall relationship. In the reanalysis the asymmetry is strongly related to moisture availability in the south-west Pacific whereas wind flow is of less importance. Some global climate models (GCMs) in the coupled model intercomparison project (CMIP5) archive capture the asymmetric nature of the ENSO-rainfall relationship whilst others do not. Differences in thermodynamic processes and their relationships with ENSO are the primary cause of variability in model performance. Analysis of an atmosphere-only run of a GCM which fails to capture the non-linear ENSO-rainfall relationship is also conducted. The atmospheric run forced by observed sea surface temperatures shows no significant improvement in the ENSO-rainfall relationship over the corresponding coupled model run in the CMIP5 archive. This result suggests that some models are failing to capture the atmospheric teleconnection between the tropical Pacific and Australia, and both this and a realistic representation of oceanic ENSO characteristics are required for coupled models to accurately capture the ENSO-rainfall teleconnection. These findings have implications for the study of rainfall projections in the region.

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We thank Steve Woolnough and an anonymous reviewer for their useful feedback on this paper. We also thank Jaclyn Brown for useful discussions. Funding for this project was provided by Australian Research Council grant CE110001028. We thank the Bureau of Meteorology, the Bureau of Rural Sciences, and CSIRO for providing the Australian Water Availability Project data. Twentieth Century Reanalysis data were provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA. Support for the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project is provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (DOE INCITE) program, and Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), and by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office. HadISST SSTs were provided by the U.K. Met Office. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups (listed in Table 1 of this paper) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the U.S. Department of Energy's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

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Correspondence to Andrew D. King.

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Supplementary material 1 (EPS 8311 kb) (a-b) Maps of Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients between the Oct-Mar Niño-3.4 index and precipitation in AWAP in (a) seasons where the Niño-3.4 index is negative only and (b) seasons where the Niño-3.4 index is positive only. Stippling indicates correlations significant at the 5 % level

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King, A.D., Donat, M.G., Alexander, L.V. et al. The ENSO-Australian rainfall teleconnection in reanalysis and CMIP5. Clim Dyn 44, 2623–2635 (2015).

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  • Twentieth century reanalysis
  • Precipitation
  • Dynamics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Asymmetry
  • El Niño-southern oscillation