On the spatial and temporal variability of ENSO precipitation and drought teleconnection in mainland Southeast Asia

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Research units

  • Columbia University

Abstract

The variability of the hydroclimate over mainland Southeast Asia is strongly influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which has been linked to severe droughts and floods that profoundly influence human societies and ecosystems alike. Although the significance of ENSO is well understood, there are still limitations in the understanding of its effects on hydroclimate, particularly with regard to understanding the spatiooral characteristics and the long-term variation of its effects. Therefore we analysed the seasonal evolution and spatial variations in the effect of ENSO on precipitation over the period of 1980-2013 and the long-term variation in the ENSO teleconnection using tree-ring-derived Palmer drought severity indices (PDSIs) for the March-May season that span over the time period 1650-2004. The analyses provided an improved understanding of the seasonal evolution of the precipitation anomalies during ENSO events. The effects of ENSO were found to be most consistent and expressed over the largest areal extents during March-May of the year when the ENSO events decay. On a longer timescale, we found that ENSO has affected the region's March-May hydroclimate over the majority (95%) of the 355-year study period and that during half (52%) of the time ENSO caused a significant increase in hydroclimatic variability. The majority of the extremely wet and dry March-May seasons also occurred during ENSO events. However, considerable variability in ENSO's influence was revealed: the spatial pattern of precipitation anomalies varied between individual ENSO events, and the strength of ENSO's influence was found to vary through time. Given the high variability in ENSO teleconnection that we described and the limitations of the current understanding of the effects of ENSO, we suggest that the adaptation to ENSO-related extremes in hydroclimate over mainland Southeast Asia needs to recognise uncertainty as an inherent part of adaptation, must go beyond "predict and control", and should seek adaptation opportunities widely within society.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1889-1905
Number of pages17
JournalCLIMATE OF THE PAST
Volume12
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sep 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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