The implications of regional variations in rainfall for reconstructing rainfall patterns using tree rings

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Haines, Heather A
Olley, Jon M
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In Australia, multidecadal periods of floods and droughts have major economic consequences. Due to the short duration of Australian instrumental precipitation records, it is difficult to determine the patterns of these multidecadal periods. Proxy records can be used to create long-term rainfall reconstructions for regions that are lacking instrumental data. However, the spatial extent over which single-site proxy records can be applied is poorly understood. Southeast Queensland (SEQ) is an area where tree rings can be used to reconstruct long-term rainfall patterns, but their regional representation is unknown. In this study, the spatial variability in rainfall across SEQ is investigated from 1908 to 2007 using 140 instrumental rainfall stations. Pearson correlation analysis between stations is used to create groups at the r = 0.80, 0.85, and 0.90 correlation levels, and then annual deviations from the mean are determined. These patterns indicate that rainfall is not uniform across SEQ but can be broken into 2 main spatially consistent groups. Each of these groups is broken down into several subgroups with higher correlation levels. Long-term streamflow records are found to be correlated to rainfall patterns local to the streamflow stations, indicating that analysis of extreme events should consider spatial precipitation variability. Finally, the only currently available proxy rainfall reconstruction for the region, a 140-year Toona ciliata tree ring width record from Lamington National Park, is compared to rainfall groups at different correlation levels across all of SEQ. The correlation between the reconstruction and the rainfall station groupings is best for the groups within which the tree-ring record is spatially located, and this correlation improves as rainfall group correlation increases. Correlation is nearly nonexistent for groupings located at a distance from the tree-ring site. These results demonstrate the importance of assessing the spatial variability of precipitation so that the spatial applicability of proxy records can be assessed.

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Hydrological Processes

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