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Describing rainfall in northern Australia using multiple climate indices

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Biogeosciences Discussions

Copernicus GmbH

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      Abstract

      Savanna landscapes are globally extensive and highly sensitive to climate change, yet the physical processes and climate phenomena which affect them remain poorly understood and therefore poorly represented in climate models. Both human populations and natural ecosystems are highly susceptible to precipitation variation in these regions due to the implications on water and food availability and atmosphere-biosphere energy fluxes. Here we quantify the relationship between climate phenomena and historical rainfall variability in Australian savannas, and in particular, how these relationships changed across a strong rainfall gradient, namely the North Australian Tropical Transect (NATT). Climate phenomena were described by 16 relevant climate indices and correlated against precipitation from 1900 to 2010 to determine the relative importance of each climate index on seasonal, inter-annual and decadal time scales. Precipitation trends, climate index trends, and wet season characteristics have also been investigated using linear statistical methods. In general, climate index-rainfall correlations were stronger in the north of the NATT where inter-annual rainfall variability was lower and a high proportion of rainfall fell during the wet season. This is consistent with a decreased influence of the Indian-Australian monsoon from the north to the south. Seasonal variation was most strongly correlated with the Australian Monsoon Index, whereas inter-annual variability was related to a greater number of climatic phenomena (predominately the El Niño-Southern Oscillation along with Tasman Sea and Indonesian sea surface temperatures). These findings highlight the importance of rainfall variability and the need to understand the climate processes driving variability, and subsequently being able to accurately represent these in climate models in order to project future rainfall patterns in the Northern Territory.

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      Journal
      Biogeosciences Discussions
      Biogeosciences Discuss.
      Copernicus GmbH
      1810-6285
      May 04 2016
      : 1-39
      10.5194/bg-2016-172
      © 2016

      http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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