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Causes of Late Twentieth-Century Trends in New Zealand Precipitation

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  • 1 Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
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Abstract

Late twentieth-century trends in New Zealand precipitation are examined using observations and reanalysis data for the period 1979–2006. One of the aims of this study is to investigate the link between these trends and recent changes in the large-scale atmospheric circulation in the Southern Hemisphere. The contributions from changes in Southern Hemisphere climate modes, particularly the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the southern annular mode (SAM), are quantified for the austral summer season, December–February (DJF). Increasingly drier conditions over much of New Zealand can be partially explained by the SAM and ENSO. Especially over wide parts of the North Island and western regions of the South Island, the SAM potentially contributes up to 80% and 20%–50% to the overall decline in DJF precipitation, respectively. Over the North Island, the contribution of the SAM and ENSO to precipitation trends is of the same sign. In contrast, over the southwest of the South Island the two climate modes act in the opposite sense, though the effect of the SAM seems to dominate there during austral summer. The leading modes of variability in summertime precipitation over New Zealand are linked to the large-scale atmospheric circulation. The two dominant modes, explaining 64% and 9% of the overall DJF precipitation variability respectively, can be understood as local manifestations of the large-scale climate variability associated with the SAM and ENSO.

Corresponding author address: Caroline Ummenhofer, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. Email: c.ummenhofer@unsw.edu.au

Abstract

Late twentieth-century trends in New Zealand precipitation are examined using observations and reanalysis data for the period 1979–2006. One of the aims of this study is to investigate the link between these trends and recent changes in the large-scale atmospheric circulation in the Southern Hemisphere. The contributions from changes in Southern Hemisphere climate modes, particularly the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the southern annular mode (SAM), are quantified for the austral summer season, December–February (DJF). Increasingly drier conditions over much of New Zealand can be partially explained by the SAM and ENSO. Especially over wide parts of the North Island and western regions of the South Island, the SAM potentially contributes up to 80% and 20%–50% to the overall decline in DJF precipitation, respectively. Over the North Island, the contribution of the SAM and ENSO to precipitation trends is of the same sign. In contrast, over the southwest of the South Island the two climate modes act in the opposite sense, though the effect of the SAM seems to dominate there during austral summer. The leading modes of variability in summertime precipitation over New Zealand are linked to the large-scale atmospheric circulation. The two dominant modes, explaining 64% and 9% of the overall DJF precipitation variability respectively, can be understood as local manifestations of the large-scale climate variability associated with the SAM and ENSO.

Corresponding author address: Caroline Ummenhofer, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. Email: c.ummenhofer@unsw.edu.au

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