Aerosol-induced changes in summer rainfall and circulation in the Australasian region: a study using single-forcing climate simulations
1Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, Vic, Australia
2Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence, Dutton Park, Qld, Australia
Abstract. We use a coupled atmosphere-ocean global climate model (CSIRO-Mk3.6) to investigate the roles of different forcing agents as drivers of summer rainfall trends in the Australasian region. Our results suggest that anthropogenic aerosols have contributed to the observed multi-decadal rainfall increase over north-western Australia.
As part of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), we performed multiple 10-member ensembles of historical climate change, which are analysed for the period 1951–2010. The historical runs include ensembles driven by "all forcings" (HIST), all forcings except anthropogenic aerosols (NO_AA) and forcing only from long-lived greenhouse gases (GHGAS). Anthropogenic aerosol-induced effects in a warming climate are calculated from the difference of HIST minus NO_AA. We also compare a 10-member 21st century ensemble driven by Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5 (RCP4.5).
Simulated aerosol-induced rainfall trends over the Indo-Pacific region for austral summer and boreal summer show a distinct contrast. In boreal summer, there is a southward shift of equatorial rainfall, consistent with the idea that anthropogenic aerosols have suppressed Asian monsoonal rainfall, and caused a southward shift of the local Hadley circulation. In austral summer, the aerosol-induced response more closely resembles a westward shift and strengthening of the upward branch of the Walker circulation, rather than a coherent southward shift of regional tropical rainfall. Thus the mechanism by which anthropogenic aerosols may affect Australian summer rainfall is unclear.
Focusing on summer rainfall trends over north-western Australia (NWA), we find that CSIRO-Mk3.6 simulates a strong rainfall decrease in RCP4.5, whereas simulated trends in HIST are weak and insignificant during 1951–2010. The weak rainfall trends in HIST are due to compensating effects of different forcing agents: there is a significant decrease in GHGAS, offset by an aerosol-induced increase in HIST minus NO_AA. However, the magnitude of the observed NWA rainfall trend is not captured by the ensemble mean of HIST minus NO_AA, or by 440 unforced 60-yr trends calculated from a 500-yr pre-industrial control run. This suggests that the observed trend includes both a forced and unforced component.
We investigate the mechanism of simulated and observed NWA rainfall changes by exploring changes in circulation over the Indo-Pacific region. The key circulation feature associated with the rainfall increase is a lower-tropospheric cyclonic circulation trend off the coast of NWA. In the model, it induces moisture convergence and upward motion over NWA. The cyclonic anomaly is present in trends calculated from HIST minus NO_AA and from reanalyses.
Further analysis suggests that the cyclonic circulation trend in HIST minus NO_AA may be initiated as a Rossby wave response to positive convective heating anomalies south of the equator during November, when the aerosol-induced response of the model over the Indian Ocean still resembles that in boreal summer (i.e. a southward shift of equatorial rainfall). The aerosol-induced enhancement of the cyclonic circulation and associated monsoonal rainfall becomes progressively stronger from December to March, suggesting that there is a positive feedback between the source of latent heat (the Australian monsoon) and the cyclonic circulation.
CSIRO-Mk3.6 indicates that anthropogenic aerosols may have masked greenhouse gas-induced changes in rainfall over NWA and in circulation over the wider Indo-Pacific region: simulated trends in RCP4.5 resemble a stronger version of those in GHGAS, and are very different from those in HIST. Further research is needed to better understand the mechanisms and the extent to which these findings are model-dependent.