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Regional rainfall decline in Australia attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gases and ozone levels

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Precipitation in austral autumn and winter has declined over parts of southern and especially southwestern Australia in the past few decades1,2,3,4. According to observations and climate models, at least part of this decline is associated with changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation1,2,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14, including a poleward movement of the westerly winds and increasing atmospheric surface pressure over parts of southern Australia. Here we use a high-resolution global climate model to analyse the causes of this rainfall decline. In our simulations, many aspects of the observed regional rainfall decline over southern and southwest Australia are reproduced in response to anthropogenic changes in levels of greenhouse gases and ozone in the atmosphere, whereas anthropogenic aerosols do not contribute to the simulated precipitation decline. Simulations of future climate with this model suggest amplified winter drying over most parts of southern Australia in the coming decades in response to a high-end scenario of changes in radiative forcing. The drying is most pronounced over southwest Australia, with total reductions in austral autumn and winter precipitation of approximately 40% by the late twenty-first century.

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Figure 1: Time-mean precipitation averaged over the March–August season for 1961–1990.
Figure 2: Precipitation differences for the March–August period between two time periods.
Figure 3: Assessing the likelihood of rainfall decline and contributing physical factors.

Change history

  • 17 July 2014

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, in Fig. 2a and b the text labels relating to the years were swapped. This has now been corrected in all versions of the Letter.


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The authors are grateful to K. Findell and A. Wittenberg for very helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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T.L.D. designed the simulations, conducted most of the analyses and wrote the manuscript. F.Z. conducted the simulations including data post-processing, and contributed to the analysis and writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Thomas L. Delworth.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Delworth, T., Zeng, F. Regional rainfall decline in Australia attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gases and ozone levels. Nature Geosci 7, 583–587 (2014).

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