Multi-century cool- and warm-season rainfall reconstructions for Australia's major climatic regions
Abstract. Australian seasonal rainfall is strongly affected by large-scale ocean–atmosphere climate influences. In this study, we exploit the links between these precipitation influences, regional rainfall variations, and palaeoclimate proxies in the region to reconstruct Australian regional rainfall between four and eight centuries into the past. We use an extensive network of palaeoclimate records from the Southern Hemisphere to reconstruct cool (April–September) and warm (October–March) season rainfall in eight natural resource management (NRM) regions spanning the Australian continent. Our bi-seasonal rainfall reconstruction aligns well with independent early documentary sources and existing reconstructions. Critically, this reconstruction allows us, for the first time, to place recent observations at a bi-seasonal temporal resolution into a pre-instrumental context, across the entire continent of Australia. We find that recent 30- and 50-year trends towards wetter conditions in tropical northern Australia are highly unusual in the multi-century context of our reconstruction. Recent cool-season drying trends in parts of southern Australia are very unusual, although not unprecedented, across the multi-century context. We also use our reconstruction to investigate the spatial and temporal extent of historical drought events. Our reconstruction reveals that the spatial extent and duration of the Millennium Drought (1997–2009) appears either very much below average or unprecedented in southern Australia over at least the last 400 years. Our reconstruction identifies a number of severe droughts over the past several centuries that vary widely in their spatial footprint, highlighting the high degree of diversity in historical droughts across the Australian continent. We document distinct characteristics of major droughts in terms of their spatial extent, duration, intensity, and seasonality. Compared to the three largest droughts in the instrumental period (Federation Drought, 1895–1903; World War II Drought, 1939–1945; and the Millennium Drought, 1997–2005), we find that the historically documented Settlement Drought (1790–1793), Sturt's Drought (1809–1830) and the Goyder Line Drought (1861–1866) actually had more regionalised patterns and reduced spatial extents. This seasonal rainfall reconstruction provides a new opportunity to understand Australian rainfall variability by contextualising severe droughts and recent trends in Australia.