Climate change or climate regimes? Examining multi-annual variations in the frequency of precipitation extremes over the Argentine Pampas

Research paper by Mari R. Tye, Richard W. Katz, Balaji Rajagopalan

Indexed on: 14 Dec '18Published on: 13 Dec '18Published in: Climate Dynamics


A recent period of increased precipitation over the Argentinian Pampas expanded the boundary of rain-fed agriculture. However, such changes may not be sustainable if they arose from transient climate regime shifts. Considerable research exists on trends and cycles in sub-daily to annual precipitation metrics including the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation. However, efforts to identify wetter and drier phases (or regimes) in this region are scant. This article aims to bridge that gap and advance our understanding of the multi-annual behavior of regional precipitation extremes, which can have the greatest impacts. It is unlikely that all extreme events are drawn from a single probability distribution or generated by the same physical processes. Hence, hidden mixtures of Poisson distributions are fitted to several precipitation frequency metrics to explore whether the annual to decadal variations in extreme precipitation frequency are greater than anticipated from a single system, and representative of regime shifts. Statistically significant improvements in the fit over single distributions were found for statistical mixture models of the frequency of very wet days, and the frequency of wet spells. This supports the hypothesis that multiple weather regimes exist giving rise to wetter or drier epochs. Posterior probabilities of hidden states from the fitted mixture distributions were used to identify wetter and drier years for comparison with sea surface temperature anomalies. This confirmed the presence of two distinct regimes, supporting other research, into the dynamical influences of precipitation behavior in the Argentine Pampas.