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SUMMARY
During recent decades rainfall has dropped significantly in mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere,
including southern Australia. The decline has coincided with increasing atmospheric surface pressures over
the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, during autumn and early winter.

Stratospheric ozone depletion is known to influence behaviour of the lower atmosphere. Scientists have
speculated that ozone depletion could be contributing to the pressure and rainfall changes. Analysis reveals
that the changes are likely to result from a combination of both natural climate processes and human
influences.

Since the 1960s, significant parts of the Southern Hemisphere, including southern Australia, have become
drier. In southwest Australia, annual total rainfall has declined by some 15 to 20 per cent. In southern
Victoria and adjacent parts of South Australia, annual rainfall has been particularly low since the mid-1990s.
North-eastern Tasmania has been similarly affected (Wright and Jones, 2003). There has been a significant
decline in the April-July rainfall across southern Australia since the 1950s.

The rainfall changes have happened abruptly, and coincide with a strengthening of the high pressure belt
over the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, during autumn and early winter.

The decline in rainfall in south-western Australia since the 1960s.


Source:http://www.ioci.org.au/publications/pdf/IOCI_Notes_Series2.pdf.

There are a number of possible causes for the rainfall changes. Natural climate variability is one, arising
from the random fluctuations that are a constant part of our climate. However, the large amplitude and
sustained changes are unlikely to be due to natural factors alone. Global warming is another possible cause,
and the rainfall changes noted here have happened during a time when the Southern Hemisphere has warmed
quite markedly.

TOPIC 9: WHAT IS CAUSING THE RAINFALL DECLINES OVER SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA – OZONE,
CLIMATE VARIABILITY OR CLIMATE CHANGE?
Australian Greenhouse Office, Department of the Environment and Heritage, April 2005
hot topics in climate change science

Climate model simulations incorporating rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations show an
increased atmospheric surface pressure at mid-latitudes and a decreased pressure in polar areas, matching
measurements made over the past 40 years. However, the observed pressure changes are much larger than
those simulated by models.

Researchers have now begun to explore a third cause — ozone depletion.

Thompson and Solomon (2002) have shown that stratospheric ozone depletion over Antarctica in spring and
early summer is strengthening the westerly winds blowing around Antarctica. (Stratospheric ozone depletion
is caused by industrial chemicals such as CFCs.) The effect is greatest during summer and may persist into
autumn.

Gillett and Thompson (2003) used a climate model to simulate the impact of stratospheric ozone depletion.
Their results show that ozone depletion affects climate both in the stratosphere and at the Earth’s surface.
The simulations match observations — the greatest strengthening of the circumpolar westerly winds in the
lower atmosphere occurs a month or two after maximum ozone depletion, during summer. This is one of
many recent studies showing that processes in the stratosphere can influence surface climate, especially in
polar regions.

Much of the decline in southern Australian rainfall has occurred in autumn and winter, not in summer. So
stratospheric ozone depletion is unlikely to be the main cause of the decline.

Karoly (2003) concludes that recent pressure and rainfall changes in the Southern Hemisphere are likely to
result from a combination of both natural climate processes and human influences, including stratospheric
ozone decreases and rising concentrations of greenhouse gases. Marshall et al. (2004) assert that rising
greenhouse gas concentrations are an important cause of the climatic changes, which cannot be due solely to
ozone depletion.

REFERENCES

Gillett, N.P. and Thompson, D.W.J. (2003) Simulation of Recent Southern Hemisphere Climate Change,
Science, 302, 273-275.[http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/302/5643/273]
Karoly D.J. (2003) Ozone and climate change, Science, 302, 236-237.
[http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/302/5643/236]
Marshall, G.J.; Stott, P.A.; Turner, J.; Connolley, W.M.; King, J.C. and Lachlan-Cope, T.A. (2004). Causes
of exceptional atmospheric circulation changes in the Southern Hemisphere. Geophysical Research
Letters, 31(14), L14205.
Thompson, D.W.J. and Solomon, S. (2002) Interpretation of recent Southern Hemisphere climate change,
Science, 296, 895-899.[http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/296/5569/895]
Wright, W. and Jones, D. (2003) Long term rainfall declines in southern Australia. Proc. National Drought
Forum, Brisbane, April 2003: Science for drought. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, 35-
40.
HOT TOPICS IN CLIMATE CHANGE SCIENCE
Prepared by CSIRO for the Australian Greenhouse Office, Department of
the Environment and Heritage, 2005
www.greenhouse.gov.au/science/hottopics

Published by the Australian Greenhouse Office, in the Department of the Environment and Heritage
Commonwealth of Australia, 2005. This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process
without prior written permission from: The Communications Director, Australian Greenhouse Office, Department of the Environment and Heritage, GPO Box 787,
Canberra ACT 2601 Email: communications@greenhouse.gov.au
IMPORTANT NOTICE – PLEASE READ - This document is produced for general information only and does not represent a statement of the policy of the
Australian Government. The Australian Government and all persons acting for the Government preparing this report accept no liability for the accuracy of or
inferences from the material contained in this publication, or for any action as a result of any person’s or group’s interpretations, deductions, conclusions or actions in
relying on this material.

TOPIC 9: WHAT IS CAUSING THE RAINFALL DECLINES OVER SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA – OZONE,
CLIMATE VARIABILITY OR CLIMATE CHANGE?
Australian Greenhouse Office, Department of the Environment and Heritage, April 2005