Global variability of precipitation according to the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission



[1] Numerous studies have documented the effect of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on rainfall in many regions of the globe. The question of whether ENSO is the single most important factor in interannual rainfall variability has received less attention, mostly because the kind of data that would be required to make such an assessment were simply not available. Until 1979 the evidence linking El Niño with changes in rainfall around the world came from rain gauges measuring precipitation over land masses and a handful of islands. From 1980 until the launch of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) in November 1997 the remote sensing evidence was confined to ocean rainfall because of the very poor sensitivity of the instruments over land. In this paper we summarize the results of a principal component analysis of TRMM's 60-month (January 1998 to December 2002) global land and ocean remote-sensing record of monthly rainfall accumulations. Contrary to the first principal component of the rainfall itself, the first three indices of the anomaly are most sensitive to precipitation over the ocean rather than over the land. With the help of archived surface station data the first TRMM rain anomaly index is extended back several decades. Comparison of the extended index with the Southern Oscillation Index confirms that the first principal component of the rainfall anomaly is strongly correlated with the ENSO indices.