Not all droughts are equal: understanding the climate drivers of wind erosion (ENSO, SAM and IOD)
MetadataShow full item record
Wind erosion is recognised as an important issue globally. It is of importance in Australia due to a large proportion of the continent being classed as arid to semi-arid. With increases in land use and projected increases in the frequency and intensity of drought periods in Australia, wind erosion may be seen to increase, intensify and expand across the continent. Additionally, increases in the severity of annual to inter-annual climate systems (such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Southern Annual Mode (SAM), the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)) and even in overarching decadal to inter-decadal climate systems (such as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)) will result in the spatial and temporal impacts of wind erosion being altered over time. Variations in drought and climate systems are recognised to affect wind erosion in Australia due to their influences on precipitation and erosive wind systems. Literature in the field of drought, wind erosion and climate systems was reviewed with respect to framing the need for this dissertation. It was identified that although a detailed understanding of drought has been developed over time (including definitions, impacts and influences) there are still challenges associated with the lack of uniform definition and with measures of severity, scale and overall prediction. Few wind erosion studies have focused on the impact that drought may have (and its flow-on effects to other wind erosion variables such as vegetation), particularly with respect to changes in response to climate. Climate systems research presents another layer of complexity to measuring or predicting wind erosion in Australia. This dissertation explores the role of drought and climate systems in wind erosion in eastern Australia (over the past 100 years), comparing a calculation of the potential for wind erosion with actual wind erosion (AWE) measures. It selects and adapts a drought index suitable for use in wind erosion studies and estimates the wind erosion potential (WEP) of eight drought periods, incorporating measures of soil erodibility and wind erosivity. It also evaluates why actual wind erosion rates (according to three different measures) differ to results produced by the WEP and examines how climate systems (the ENSO, SAM and IOD) and synoptic-scale systems influence wind erosion during the drought periods. Two drought indices (rainfall deciles (RD) and the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI)) were assessed according to seven criteria developed to evaluate the favourability of indices for use in wind erosion studies. The SPI was selected as the most favourable due to its ability to identify the start and end dates of drought, provide measures of drought intensity, magnitude and severity and best capture wind erosion activity. The SPI was adapted and enhanced for the calculation of WEP using established factors of drought, erodibility (vegetation cover) and erosivity (wind speed) and applied to historical data (over 100 years from the consolidation of 63 observer stations into 22 stations in eastern Australia. Differences in results were evident for northeastern Australia (NEA) and southeastern Australia (SEA), reflecting varying short and longer term climatic influences. At a localised level wind severity, vegetative cover types and geomorphological features were able to explain differences. Specific climate systems phases (negative ENSO, negative SAM and positive IOD) occurring drought periods were found to favour wind erosion activity (both in NEA and SEA). A combination lock of climate system phase and wind erosion risk was developed to provide a conceptual understanding of the influence of climate systems on wind erosion during drought periods in Australia. This conceptual approach is unique to this dissertation, constituting an original innovation in the field of wind erosion research during drought and climate system studies in general. Combinations of climate system phases and associated wind erosion risk were presented for eight combinatoric scenarios, with highest wind erosion risk associated with negative ENSO, negative SAM and positive IOD. These combinations were demonstrated to have differing impacts according to location on the Australian continent due to differing synoptic-scale system dominance (trough systems in the north and cold fronts in the south). This dissertation has confirmed the important role that climate systems have on wind erosion during drought periods in eastern Australia. Its results have new implications for research in the field of wind erosion. It demonstrates a method of measuring drought from a wind erosion perspective and develops a way of both estimating wind erosion potential risk and investigating wind erosion activity from the lens of climate systems. The combination lock approach to climate systems and wind erosion during drought periods provides a conceptual advance in the climatological and meteorological understanding of wind erosion activity (spatially and temporally). Furthermore, at a time when the future impacts of drought and climate systems are predicted to intensify in severity and spatial scale, this research could provide a way for aeolian geomorphologists and land managers to predict the risk of wind erosion occurrence.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Griffith School of Environment
The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.