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Recent summer rainfall increase and surface cooling over Northern Australia since the late 1970s: A response to warming in the tropical Western Pacific

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Xiaofeng Li, Dr Jingjing Yu



Rainfall over northern Australia (NA) in austral summer is the largest water source of Australia. Previous studies have suggested a strong zonal-dipole trend pattern in austral summer rainfall since 1950, with rainfall increasing in northwest Australia (NWA) but decreasing in northeast Australia (NEA). The dynamics of rainfall increase in NWA was linked to sea surface temperature (SST) in the south Indian Ocean and the rainfall decrease in NEA was associated with SST in the northeast Indian Ocean.This study reports that, in contrast to a zonal-dipole trend pattern, a dominant wetting pattern over NA has recently been observed in the post-1979 satellite era. The recent NA rainfall increase also manifests as the first leading mode of summer rainfall variability over the Australian continent. Further investigation reveals that SST in the tropical western Pacific (TWP) has replaced the SST in the south and northeast Indian Ocean as the controlling factor responsible for the recent NA rainfall increase. Direct thermal forcing by increasing TWP SST gives rise to an anomalous Gill-type cyclone centered around NA, leading to anomalously high rainfall. As such, the increasing SST in the TWP induces over 50% of the observed rainfall wetting trend over NA. The increased rainfall in turn induces land surface cooling in NA. This mechanism can be confirmed with results obtained from sensitivity experiments of a numerical spectral atmospheric general circulation model. Thus, increasing SST in the TWP has contributed much of the recent summer rainfall increase and consequently the surface cooling over NA.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Li XF, Yu J, Li Y

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Climate

Year: 2013

Volume: 26

Issue: 18

Pages: 7221–7239

Print publication date: 05/09/2013

Online publication date: 01/03/2013

Date deposited: 11/12/2017

ISSN (print): 0894-8755

ISSN (electronic): 1520-0442

Publisher: American Meteorological Society


DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00786.1


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