Local and Remote Drivers of Southeast Australian Drought.

Holgate, C.M., A.I.J.M. van Dijk, J.P. Evans and A.J. Pitman
Geophysical Research Letters, 47(18), e2020GL090238, doi: 10.1029/2020GL090238, 2020.


Droughts are associated with large‐scale modes of variability, synoptic‐scale systems, and terrestrial processes. Quantifying their relative roles in influencing drought guides process understanding, helps identify weaknesses in climate models, and focuses model improvements. Using a Lagrangian back‐trajectory approach we provide the first quantification of the change in moisture supply during major droughts in southeast Australia, including the causes of the changes. Drought onset and intensification were driven by reduced moisture supply from the ocean, as moisture was circulated away from the region, combined with an absence of precipitation‐generating mechanisms over land. During termination, strengthened moist easterly flows from the Tasman and Coral Seas promoted anomalously high rainfall. Our approach reveals terrestrial moisture sources played a secondary role, amplifying rainfall anomalies by less than 6%. Simulating droughts therefore requires deeper understanding of the relationship between moisture advection and synoptic‐scale circulation and how large‐scale climate variability and terrestrial processes modify these relationships.

Key Figure

Figure 2. Moisture source anomalies during drought (a–d) onset, (e–h) intensification, and (i–l) termination in the northern region overlain by low‐level wind speed anomalies. Droughts A, B, and C are represented in the top three rows, with the bottom row showing their mean.

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