Are Anthropogenic Aerosols Responsible for the Northwest Australia Summer Rainfall Increase? A CMIP3 Perspective and Implications

Wenju Cai, Tim Cowan, Arnold Sullivan, Joachim Ribbe, Ge Shi

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Severe rainfall deficiencies have plagued southern and eastern Australian regions over the past decades, where the long-term rainfall is projected to decrease. By contrast, there has been an increase over northwest Australia (NWA) in austral summer, which, if it continues, could be an important future water resource. If increasing anthropogenic aerosols contribute to the observed increase in summer rainfall, then, as anthropogenic aerosols are projected to decrease, what will the likely impact over NWA be? This study uses output from 24 climate models submitted to phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3) with a total of 75 experiments to provide a multimodel perspective. The authors find that none of the ensemble averages, either with both the direct and indirect anthropogenic aerosol effect (10 models, 32 experiments) or with the direct effect only (14 models, 43 experiments), simulate the observed NWA rainfall increase. Given this, it follows that a projected rainfall reduction is not due to a projected decline in future aerosol concentrations. The authors show that the projected NWA rainfall reduction is associated with an unrealistic and overly strong NWA rainfall teleconnection with the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The unrealistic teleconnection is primarily caused by a model equatorial Pacific cold tongue that extends too far into the western Pacific, with the ascending branch of the Walker circulation situated too far west, exerting an influence on rainfall over NWA rather than over northeast Australia. Models with a greater present-day ENSO amplitude produce a greater reduction in the Walker circulation and hence a greater reduction in NWA rainfall in a warming climate. Hence, the cold bias and its impact represent a source of uncertainty for climate projections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2556-2564
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • ENSO

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