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Keywords:

  • rainfall;
  • Douro;
  • Tagus;
  • Guadiana;
  • transnational basins;
  • change points;
  • trends;
  • field significance

Abstract

An analysis of recent-past changes in rainfall records from the three major transnational basins in Iberia was performed, using data from Spain and Portugal which are generally considered separately. Change point (to detect abrupt changes in rainfall) and trend analysis were performed in the basins of rivers Douro, Tagus and Guadiana for the period 1961 to 2009. Nonparametric tests (Pettitt, cusum and Mann–Kendall) were used in order not to assume a specific distribution for the data. Field significance was taken into account when applying the tests for trends and change points. The importance of spatial correlation when calculating field significance was demonstrated. As well as finding changes in rainfall which have great significance for water resources, some important issues are raised as to the nature of changes in rainfall to be expected. Significant decreases in rainfall were found for the month of February and, to a lesser extent, March. Significant increases in rainfall were found for October in the Spanish side of Douro and Tagus catchments. The variability of the NAO index was considered a likely explanation for the changes detected. It was also demonstrated that changes in rainfall cannot be interpreted as trends or change points always because the pattern of change can be more complex than these two simplistic ways of describing change. Furthermore, the magnitude of the change can be completely different depending on the type of change assumed. Therefore the quantification of the change must be made with care, as the widely used linear trend can result in an overestimation of the change and, in principle, is not coherent with the multiple alternative hypotheses (different admissible monotonic patterns) implied by the Mann–Kendall test. Copyright © 2013 Royal Meteorological Society