Journal cover Journal topic
Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
10 Mar 2017
Review status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Climate of the Past (CP).
Multi-century cool and warm season rainfall reconstructions for Australia's major climatic regions
Mandy Freund1,2,3, Benjamin J. Henley1,2, David J. Karoly1,2, Kathryn J. Allen4, and Patrick J. Baker4 1School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, 3010, Australia
2ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, Australia
3Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3010, Australia
4School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne, Richmond, Victoria, 3121, Australia
Abstract. Australian seasonal rainfall is strongly influenced by large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate influences. In this study, we exploit the links between these large-scale precipitation influences, regional rainfall variations, and palaeoclimate proxies in the region to reconstruct Australian regional rainfall between four and eight centuries into the past. We use an extensive network of palaeoclimate records from the Southern Hemisphere to reconstruct cool (Apr–Sep) and warm (Oct–Mar) season rainfall in eight natural resource management (NRM) regions spanning the Australian continent. Our sub-annual rainfall reconstruction aligns well with independent early documentary sources and existing reconstructions. Critically, this reconstruction allows us, for the first time, to place recent observations at a sub-annual temporal resolution into a pre-instrumental context, across the entire continent of Australia. We find that recent 30-year and 50-year trends towards wetter conditions in tropical northern Australia are highly unusual in the multi-century context of our reconstruction. Recent cool season drying trends in parts of southern Australia are also very unusual, although not unprecedented, across the multi-century context. We also use our reconstruction to investigate the spatial and temporal extent of historical drought events. Our reconstruction reveals that the spatial extent and duration of the Millennium drought (1997–2009) appears either very much below average or unprecedented in southern Australia over at least the last 400 years. Our reconstruction identifies a number of severe droughts over the past several centuries that vary widely in their spatial footprint, highlighting the high degree of diversity in historical droughts across the Australian continent. We document distinct characteristics of major droughts in terms of their spatial extent, duration, intensity, and seasonality. Compared to the three largest droughts in the instrumental period (Federation drought [1895–1903], World War II drought [1939–1945], and the Millennium drought [1997–2005]), we find that the historically documented Settlement drought [1790–1793], Sturt drought [1809–1830] and the Goyder Line drought [1861–1866] actually had more regionalised patterns and reduced spatial extents. This seasonal rainfall reconstruction provides a new opportunity to understand Australian rainfall variability, by contextualising severe droughts and recent trends in Australia.

Citation: Freund, M., Henley, B. J., Karoly, D. J., Allen, K. J., and Baker, P. J.: Multi-century cool and warm season rainfall reconstructions for Australia's major climatic regions, Clim. Past Discuss., doi:10.5194/cp-2017-28, in review, 2017.
Mandy Freund et al.
Mandy Freund et al.
Mandy Freund et al.


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Short summary
To understand how climate change will influence Australian rainfall we must first understand the long-term context of droughts and floods. We reconstruct warm and cool season rainfall in Australia's eight major climatic regions for several centuries into the past, building the clearest picture yet of long-term rainfall variability across the Australian continent. We find recent rainfall increases in the warm season in the north, and declines in the cool season in the south, to be highly unusual.
To understand how climate change will influence Australian rainfall we must first understand the...