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The influence of soil moisture deficits on Australian heatwaves

Herold, N., Kala, J.ORCID: 0000-0001-9338-2965 and Alexander, L.V. (2016) The influence of soil moisture deficits on Australian heatwaves. Environmental Research Letters, 11 (6). 064003.

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Several regions of Australia are projected to experience an increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves (HWs) under future climate change. The large-scale dynamics of HWs are well understood, however, the influence of soil moisture deficits—due for example to drought—remains largely unexplored in the region. Using the standardised precipitation evapotranspiration index, we show that the statistical responses of HW intensity and frequency to soil moisture deficits at the peak of the summer season are asymmetric and occur mostly in the lower and upper tails of the probability distribution, respectively. For aspects of HWs related to intensity, substantially greater increases are experienced at the 10th percentile when antecedent soil moisture is low (mild HWs get hotter). Conversely, HW aspects related to longevity increase much more strongly at the 90th percentile in response to low antecedent soil moisture (long HWs get longer). A corollary to this is that in the eastern and northern parts of the country where HW-soil moisture coupling is evident, high antecedent soil moisture effectively ensures few HW days and low HW temperatures, while low antecedent soil moisture ensures high HW temperatures but not necessarily more HW days.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: IOP Publishing
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