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Changes in the rainfall regime along the extratropical west coast of South America (Chile): 30-43º S


Journal: Atmósfera
ISSN 0187-6236

Volume: 25;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Southern Oscillation | Pacific Decadal Oscillation | Southeast Pacific Subtropical Anticyclone | Antarctic Oscillation

The evolution of annual rainfall along the west coast of South America from 30 to 43º S (central Chile) is analyzed for the period 1900-2007. A prevailing negative trend in annual rainfall has been documented for this region in several previous studies. Here we focus on the significant changes and fluctuations occurring at the decadal time scale, exploring the links with regional atmospheric circulation anomalies associated with large-scale oscillatory modes of the ocean-atmospheric system. In particular, the relatively dry condition that prevailed from the 1950s to the early 1970s in the northern part of central Chile (30-35º S) is consistent with an intensified subtropical anticyclone in the southeast Pacific during a period characterized by a prevailing positive phase of the Southern Oscillation (SO) and the cold phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The shift of the PDO toward the warm phase by the mid-1970s was followed by an increased frequency of the negative phase of the SO and associated El Niño episodes. Concurrent weakening of the subtropical anticyclone favored an increased frequency of wet years in this region. Further south the negative trend in annual rainfall that prevailed since the 1950s in the region from 37 to 43º S intensified by the end of the 20th century. Changes in the meridional sea level pressure gradient at mid-latitudes and high-latitudes in the southeast Pacific, which are partially connected to the Antarctic Oscillation (AAO), play a significant role in modulating the interannual rainfall variability in all central Chile, especially during the austral winter semester (April-September). Thus, an intensified (reduced) meridional pressure gradient in that region favors a southward (northward) displacement of the latitudinal band of migratory extratropical low pressure systems and associated fronts. The significant positive trend that both the AAO index and its regional counterpart in the southeast Pacific exhibit since the 1950s may partially explain the observed downward trend in annual precipitation in the southern portion of central Chile, resulting from a reduction in both the frequency of wet days and the intensity of precipitation. Most of the global and regional climate models used to assess future climate scenarios associated with an enhanced planetary greenhouse effect, also call for a reduction of rainfall in this region which is consistent with the positive trend in the AAO predicted by those models.
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