Modulation of South African summer rainfall by global climatic processes

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Global climatic processes which control the interannual variability of summer rainfall over South Africa are studied. Monthly and seasonal rainfall variations are analysed with respect to fluctuations in sea surface temperature (SST), outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) and tropospheric winds. OLR is used as a proxy for convective intensity and for the identification of areas of sympathy and opposition to convection over South Africa. Wind data (and derived parameters) are employed to explore large- scale tropical dynamical structures. Plausible explanations are offered for the observed associations. A change in sign of the correlation structure from the October/November rainfall regime to the December through March regime is indicative of a shift from downstream advective processes (Atlantic side) to a teleconnection-type of behaviour (Indian Ocean side). Rainfall variations during the late summer months show significant (and negative) links with SST fluctuations within the equatorial/tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean areas and are consistent with results obtained in analyses with respect to OLR fluctuations. December OLR in the Western Equatorial Indian Ocean is associated with a large portion of the variance in late summer rainfall, and points to a possible relation with the evolution of the Indian monsoon. The positive association implies that reduced cloudiness off the eastern coast of equatorial Africa in the spring precedes above normal mid- and late- summer rainfall over South Africa. Vertical mass overturnings are investigated through the velocity potential and derived parameters (the Zonal Circulation and Meridional Circulation Indices). The results suggest that the vertical tropospheric cells are among the important associated components which modulate climate across southern Africa, and that broad scale flows have an impact upon regional circulation cells. Evaluation of the vertical circulations with respect to wet and dry composites reveals that the Walker-type cell which connects a branch over the Indian Ocean gradually forms after November and reaches peak development in February. A slight increase of SST in the Central Equatorial Indian Ocean (CEI) modifies the Walker cell anomaly leading to below normal summer rainfall over South Africa. Additional thermodynamic inputs in the CEI region are conducive to deeper convection, hence elevated outflow signatures are observed in the velocity potential and related fields. It is conjectured that the teleconnections between South Africa, the CEI and the remote Pacific Ocean regulate the depth of moisture influx and convergence over South Africa. Based on the results of this study, it is believed that empirical models could be designed for long-range prediction of summer rainfall anomalies over the central interior of South Africa.