Southern Hemisphere Synoptic Behavior in Extreme Phases of SAM, ENSO, Sea Ice Extent, and Southern Australia Rainfall

Alexandre Bernardes Pezza School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Tom Durrant School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Ian Simmonds School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Ian Smith Marine and Atmospheric Research, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Aspendale, Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

The association between Southern Hemisphere cyclones and anticyclones and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), southern annular mode (SAM), Antarctic sea ice extent (SIE), and rainfall in Perth and Melbourne is explored. Those cities are, respectively, located in the southwestern and southeastern corners of Australia, where substantial decreasing rainfall trends have been observed over the last decades. The need for a more unified understanding of large-scale anomalies in storm indicators associated with the climate features itemized above has motivated this study. The main aim is to identify cyclone-anomalous areas that are potentially important in characterizing continental rainfall anomalies from a hemispheric perspective, focusing on midlatitude Australia. The study covers the “satellite era” from 1979 to 2003 and was conducted for the southern winter when midlatitude rainfall is predominantly baroclinic.

The results indicate a well-organized hemispheric cyclone pattern associated with ENSO, SAM, SIE, and rainfall anomalies. There is a moderate large-scale, high-latitude resemblance between La Niña, negative SAM, and reduced SIE in some sectors. In particular, there is a suggestion that SIE anomalies over the Indian Ocean and Western Australia sectors are associated with a large-scale pattern of cyclone/anticyclone anomalies that is more pronounced over the longitudes of Australia and New Zealand. Spatial correlation analysis suggests a robust link between cyclone density over the sectors mentioned above and rainfall in Perth and Melbourne. Statistical analyses of rainfall and SIE show modest correlations for Perth and weak correlations for Melbourne, generally corroborating the above.

It is proposed that SAM and SIE are part of a complex physical system that is best understood as a coupled mechanism, and that their impacts on the circulation can be seen as partially independent of ENSO. While SAM and SIE have greater influence on the circulation affecting rainfall in the western side of Australia, ENSO is the dominant influence on the eastern half of the country. A contraction of the sea ice seems to be accompanied by a southward shift of high-latitude cyclones, which is also hypothesized to increase downstream cyclone density at midlatitudes via conservation of mass, similarly to what is observed during the extreme positive phase of the SAM. These associations build on previous developments in the literature. They bring a more unified view on high-latitude climate features, and may also help to explain the declining trends in Australian rainfall.

Corresponding author address: Alexandre Bernardes Pezza, School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, 3010, Australia. Email: apezza@unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

The association between Southern Hemisphere cyclones and anticyclones and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), southern annular mode (SAM), Antarctic sea ice extent (SIE), and rainfall in Perth and Melbourne is explored. Those cities are, respectively, located in the southwestern and southeastern corners of Australia, where substantial decreasing rainfall trends have been observed over the last decades. The need for a more unified understanding of large-scale anomalies in storm indicators associated with the climate features itemized above has motivated this study. The main aim is to identify cyclone-anomalous areas that are potentially important in characterizing continental rainfall anomalies from a hemispheric perspective, focusing on midlatitude Australia. The study covers the “satellite era” from 1979 to 2003 and was conducted for the southern winter when midlatitude rainfall is predominantly baroclinic.

The results indicate a well-organized hemispheric cyclone pattern associated with ENSO, SAM, SIE, and rainfall anomalies. There is a moderate large-scale, high-latitude resemblance between La Niña, negative SAM, and reduced SIE in some sectors. In particular, there is a suggestion that SIE anomalies over the Indian Ocean and Western Australia sectors are associated with a large-scale pattern of cyclone/anticyclone anomalies that is more pronounced over the longitudes of Australia and New Zealand. Spatial correlation analysis suggests a robust link between cyclone density over the sectors mentioned above and rainfall in Perth and Melbourne. Statistical analyses of rainfall and SIE show modest correlations for Perth and weak correlations for Melbourne, generally corroborating the above.

It is proposed that SAM and SIE are part of a complex physical system that is best understood as a coupled mechanism, and that their impacts on the circulation can be seen as partially independent of ENSO. While SAM and SIE have greater influence on the circulation affecting rainfall in the western side of Australia, ENSO is the dominant influence on the eastern half of the country. A contraction of the sea ice seems to be accompanied by a southward shift of high-latitude cyclones, which is also hypothesized to increase downstream cyclone density at midlatitudes via conservation of mass, similarly to what is observed during the extreme positive phase of the SAM. These associations build on previous developments in the literature. They bring a more unified view on high-latitude climate features, and may also help to explain the declining trends in Australian rainfall.

Corresponding author address: Alexandre Bernardes Pezza, School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, 3010, Australia. Email: apezza@unimelb.edu.au

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