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The Seasonal Cycle of Blocking and Associated Physical Mechanisms in the Australian Region and Relationship with Rainfall

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  • 1 CAWCR CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart, Tasmania, and Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
  • | 2 Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • | 3 CAWCR Bureau of Meteorology, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
  • | 4 CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
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Abstract

The seasonal cycle of blocking in the Australian region is shown to be associated with major seasonal temperature changes over continental Antarctica (approximately 15°–35°C) and Australia (about 8°–17°C) and with minor changes over the surrounding oceans (below 5°C). These changes are superimposed on a favorable background state for blocking in the region resulting from a conjunction of physical influences. These include the geographical configuration and topography of the Australian and Antarctic continents and the positive west to east gradient of sea surface temperature in the Indo-Australian sector of the Southern Ocean. Blocking is represented by a blocking index (BI) developed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The BI has a marked seasonal cycle that reflects seasonal changes in the strength of the westerly winds in the midtroposphere at selected latitudes. Significant correlations between the BI at Australian longitudes and rainfall have been demonstrated in southern and central Australia for the austral autumn, winter, and spring. Patchy positive correlations are evident in the south during summer but significant negative correlations are apparent in the central tropical north. By decomposing the rainfall into its contributions from identifiable synoptic types during the April–October growing season, it is shown that the high correlation between blocking and rainfall in southern Australia is explained by the component of rainfall associated with cutoff lows. These systems form the cyclonic components of blocking dipoles. In contrast, there is no significant correlation between the BI and rainfall from Southern Ocean fronts.

Current affiliation: Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Michael Pook, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, TAS 7001 Australia. E-mail: mike.pook@csiro.au

Abstract

The seasonal cycle of blocking in the Australian region is shown to be associated with major seasonal temperature changes over continental Antarctica (approximately 15°–35°C) and Australia (about 8°–17°C) and with minor changes over the surrounding oceans (below 5°C). These changes are superimposed on a favorable background state for blocking in the region resulting from a conjunction of physical influences. These include the geographical configuration and topography of the Australian and Antarctic continents and the positive west to east gradient of sea surface temperature in the Indo-Australian sector of the Southern Ocean. Blocking is represented by a blocking index (BI) developed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The BI has a marked seasonal cycle that reflects seasonal changes in the strength of the westerly winds in the midtroposphere at selected latitudes. Significant correlations between the BI at Australian longitudes and rainfall have been demonstrated in southern and central Australia for the austral autumn, winter, and spring. Patchy positive correlations are evident in the south during summer but significant negative correlations are apparent in the central tropical north. By decomposing the rainfall into its contributions from identifiable synoptic types during the April–October growing season, it is shown that the high correlation between blocking and rainfall in southern Australia is explained by the component of rainfall associated with cutoff lows. These systems form the cyclonic components of blocking dipoles. In contrast, there is no significant correlation between the BI and rainfall from Southern Ocean fronts.

Current affiliation: Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Michael Pook, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, TAS 7001 Australia. E-mail: mike.pook@csiro.au
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