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A review of past and projected changes in Australia's rainfall

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There has been much attention given to the spatial and temporal characteristics of changes in mean and extreme rainfall over Australia during the past century. As Australia is the second driest continent on Earth, reliable projections around the trends and variability in future rainfall are crucial for policymakers and water resource management. This article comprehensively reviews the current published literature on trends in Australia's rainfall from pre‐instrumental and instrumental records, the climatic drivers of Australia's rainfall variability, attribution of the long‐term trends, extreme rainfall attribution methods with particular reference to a recent case study (2010–2012 east Australia rainfall event) and projected changes of mean and extreme rainfall over Australia during the 21st century. Notable trends in the observational record of rainfall in Australia are a decrease in mean rainfall in southwest and southeast Australia and an increase in northwest Australia since 1950. The general consensus of research into Australia's future rainfall is that mean rainfall will continue to decrease in southwest Australia in a warming world, while changes over northern and eastern Australia remain uncertain. There are still significant knowledge gaps around the causes of observed trends in rainfall both in the mean and extremes, the ability of climate models to accurately represent rainfall in the Australian region and future rainfall projections. These gaps are identified, and avenues for future research directions are proposed. This article is categorized under: Paleoclimates and Current Trends > Modern Climate Change
On the left column, trends (mm yr−1) over the time period 1910–2015 in (a) annual (d) December–February (DJF) (g) march–may (MAM) (j) June–august (JJA) and (m) September–November (SON) precipitation in AWAP. Middle column as in left column, but for 30 year (1986–2015) trends in AWAP. Right column as in middle column, but for ensemble mean of 39 CMIP5 models (historical and RCP8.5). Note different magnitude of color bar scales for each column. Stippling on the left and middle panel figures show significance at 95% level using Mann‐Kendall non parametric test, and the stippling on the rightmost panel shows regions where two thirds of the CMIP5 models agree on the sign of the change
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Schematic of Australia's major rainfall drivers (Reprinted with permission from Bureau of Meteorology. Copyright 2018 commonwealth of Australia)
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Outline of the regions that experience major rainfall trends in Australia. Northwest Australia (NWA; 10°–25°S, 110°–135°E), Southeast Queensland (SEQ; 22°–30.5°S, east of 150.5°E), southwest of Western Australia (SWWA; southwest of the line joining 30°S, 115°E, and 35°S, 120°E), Southeast Australia (SEA; 33°–44°S, 135°–154°E)
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(a) Climatology (mm), (b) standard deviation (mm) (c) coefficient of variation (CV; standard deviation normalized by climatological mean) of annual mean rainfall. The period used is 1900–2015 in AWAP
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Rainfall data availability across Australia. (a) Station network of AWAP dataset over the period 1988–2017, (b) time series of the number of stations contributing to the AWAP daily rainfall dataset, (c) locations of rainfall and streamflow reconstructions until 2015. Dashed regions show reconstruction regions of rainfall variability based on Antarctic ice core record. Figure (a) and (b) produced using station information provided by BOM (updated Figure 1(c) from Jones et al. (2009)). Figure (c) is reprinted with permission from Ho et al. (). Copyright 2015 John Wiley and Sons
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Trends in extreme precipitation indices for the GHCNDEX dataset (1951–2015) (a) maximum 5 day precipitation (Rx5day; mm), (b) heavy precipitation days (R10mm; days), (c) very heavy precipitation days (r20mm; days), (d) very wet days (R95p; mm), (e) extremely wet days (R99p; mm), (f) total wet day precipitation (PRCPTOT; mm), (g) simple daily intensity (SDII; mm), (h) consecutive dry days (CDD; days), (i) consecutive wet days (CWD; days). These datasets are downloaded on 27 July 2018 from https://www.climdex.org/gewocs.html
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