Projected changes in drought across the wheat belt of southeastern Australia using a downscaled climate ensemble
- Publication Type:
- Journal Article
- International Journal of Climatology, 2019, 39 (2), pp. 1041 - 1053
- Issue Date:
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© 2018 Royal Meteorological Society Drought is viewed as a naturally recurring phenomenon in many Australian agricultural systems. Identifying regional changes in frequency and severity of drought induced by climate change is required to develop regionally specific adaptation strategies. In this study, we provided a first look at the impacts of climate change on 21st century drought characteristics over the New South Wales wheat belt of southeastern Australia. These impacts were assessed from an ensemble of 28 statistical downscaled global climate models under representative concentration pathway (RCP8.5). A modified relative standardized precipitation and evapotranspiration index (rSPEI) at the seasonal scale (3 months) was used to analyse temporal and spatial changes in drought. Results indicated that there was a tendency towards more frequent and severe winter–spring droughts over the study area. Moreover, winter–spring drought prone areas were expected to expand from west to east. Until the end of the 21st century, more than half the wheat belt would be vulnerable to winter–spring drought. The combined effects of reduced precipitation and increased temperature during future winter and spring seasons were the main reasons causing these changes of drought. In addition, summer and autumn droughts would have both slight temporal and spatial changes across the study region. This study also revealed that traditionally dry areas would likely experience an increased frequency of drought compared to wetter areas when subjected to a same increase in temperature or decrease in precipitation. Furthermore, the western part of the wheat belt might be unsuitable for winter crops in the future, or at least exposed to an increased risk of variable yield and would require a gradual transformation which might include summer crops or pastures. Investments in cropping land should be focused on the east part of the wheat belt to achieve more consistent financial returns.
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