Trends in extreme daily rainfall across the South Pacific and relationship to the South Pacific Convergence Zone



Daily rainfall records from 22 high-quality stations located in the South Pacific were analysed, over the common period 1961–2000, in order to assess whether extreme rainfall events have altered in their frequency or magnitude. A comprehensive spatial coverage across the South Pacific was provided, analysing a range of indices of extreme precipitation, which reflect both high rainfall events and drought. Clear spatial patterns emerged in the trends of extreme rainfall indices, with a major discontinuity across the diagonal section of the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ).

Stations located between 180 and 155°W exhibit a greater number of significant abrupt changes in extreme climate than elsewhere in the South Pacific, and the majority of climatic jumps occur in the 1970s or 1980s (coincident with a displacement northeastward of the diagonal part of the SPCZ and a large local increase in mean annual temperature). Notably, all significant abrupt changes in an extreme rainfall intensity index occurred in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and in every case the index showed an increase in extremity following the change point, regardless of station location. For the stations located south of the SPCZ, this may also be linked to the observed warming since the 1970s. Significant abrupt changes in mean precipitation were also identified around the mid 1940s, for two longer, century-scale records, which again correspond to a major displacement of the diagonal section of the SPCZ.

An indicator of the diagonal SPCZ position is significantly temporally correlated with an extreme rainfall intensity index, at two locations either side of the diagonal section of the SPCZ, at decadal time scales or longer. This suggests that the displacement of the diagonal portion of the SPCZ on decadal time scales influences not only mean precipitation, but also daily rainfall extremes. Copyright © 2003 Royal Meteorological Society