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Regional climate projections for the South West of Western Australia to simulate changes in mean and extreme rainfall and temperature

Andrys, Julia (2016) Regional climate projections for the South West of Western Australia to simulate changes in mean and extreme rainfall and temperature. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The southwest of Western Australia (SWWA) is an area of significant agricultural production and an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot. The region has experienced marked rainfall reductions over the last four decades and there is uncertainty as to the extent of future changes to the hydrological regime. Hence, there is a need for regional climate information in SWWA to better inform climate adaptation strategies for several key sectors, including agriculture and forestry. The overarching aim of this project is to provide such information, with a focus on changes in rainfall and temperature extremes.

The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model was used as a regional climate model for SWWA. Given the known sensitivity of WRF to physics options and driving data, the most appropriate physical parameterisations were tested on a yearly time-scale. Based on these findings, a 30-year climatology was produced for SWWA (1981-2010) at a 5 km resolution by downscaling ERA-Interim reanalysis. Comparisons against observations showed that the model was able to simulate the daily, seasonal and annual variation of temperature and precipitation well, including extreme events. The model was then used to downscale an ensemble of 4 general circulation models (GCMs) for the historical period (1970- 1999) and compared against both observations and the GCMs. WRF was shown to add value to the GCM data for 3 out of the 4 GCMs evaluated, particularly in the spatio-temporal distribution of winter rainfall.

Finally, the ensemble was run from 2030-2059 to examine projected climate change in SWWA. Results project that maximum temperature extremes will increase, consistent with mean changes however the variance of maximum temperatures is not projected to change significantly. While mean minimum temperatures are not projected to increase as much as maximum temperatures, there is strong evidence that the variability of minimum temperatures will increase. This has the potential to raise the likelihood of night time temperature extremes. Simulations project a reduction in rainfall, particularly during winter. This decline is related to fewer frontal systems traversing the SWWA and hence fewer rain days. The study found no evidence to suggest that the intensity of rain bearing winter storms is likely to change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor(s): Lyons, Tom and Kala, J.
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