Rainfall Variability at Decadal and Longer Time Scales: Signal or Noise?

Holger Meinke Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Toowoomba, Australia

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Peter deVoil Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Toowoomba, Australia

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Graeme L. Hammer Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Toowoomba, Australia
School of Land and Food Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

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Scott Power Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Robert Allan Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Met Office, Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom

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Roger C. Stone Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Toowoomba, Australia

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Chris Folland Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Met Office, Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom

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Andries Potgieter Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Toowoomba, Australia

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Abstract

Rainfall variability occurs over a wide range of temporal scales. Knowledge and understanding of such variability can lead to improved risk management practices in agricultural and other industries. Analyses of temporal patterns in 100 yr of observed monthly global sea surface temperature and sea level pressure data show that the single most important cause of explainable, terrestrial rainfall variability resides within the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) frequency domain (2.5–8.0 yr), followed by a slightly weaker but highly significant decadal signal (9–13 yr), with some evidence of lesser but significant rainfall variability at interdecadal time scales (15–18 yr). Most of the rainfall variability significantly linked to frequencies lower than ENSO occurs in the Australasian region, with smaller effects in North and South America, central and southern Africa, and western Europe. While low-frequency (LF) signals at a decadal frequency are dominant, the variability evident was ENSO-like in all the frequency domains considered. The extent to which such LF variability is (i) predictable and (ii) either part of the overall ENSO variability or caused by independent processes remains an as yet unanswered question. Further progress can only be made through mechanistic studies using a variety of models.

Corresponding author address: Holger Meinke, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, P.O. Box 102, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia. Email: holger.meinke@dpi.qld.gov.au

Abstract

Rainfall variability occurs over a wide range of temporal scales. Knowledge and understanding of such variability can lead to improved risk management practices in agricultural and other industries. Analyses of temporal patterns in 100 yr of observed monthly global sea surface temperature and sea level pressure data show that the single most important cause of explainable, terrestrial rainfall variability resides within the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) frequency domain (2.5–8.0 yr), followed by a slightly weaker but highly significant decadal signal (9–13 yr), with some evidence of lesser but significant rainfall variability at interdecadal time scales (15–18 yr). Most of the rainfall variability significantly linked to frequencies lower than ENSO occurs in the Australasian region, with smaller effects in North and South America, central and southern Africa, and western Europe. While low-frequency (LF) signals at a decadal frequency are dominant, the variability evident was ENSO-like in all the frequency domains considered. The extent to which such LF variability is (i) predictable and (ii) either part of the overall ENSO variability or caused by independent processes remains an as yet unanswered question. Further progress can only be made through mechanistic studies using a variety of models.

Corresponding author address: Holger Meinke, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, P.O. Box 102, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia. Email: holger.meinke@dpi.qld.gov.au

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