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Modelling the spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall: a case study in the wet and dry tropics of North East Australia

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Rainfall regimes with strong spatial and temporal variation are characteristic of many coastal regions of north and eastern Australia. In coastal regions of north eastern Australia, regimes vary considerably over short distances. This occurs because of changes in local topography, including the height and orientation of mountain ranges and the direction of the coastline with respect to the prevailing moist south east air stream. Northern Australia experiences a tropical monsoon climate with rainfall occurring predominantly during the summer months. Areas with a closer proximity to the coast typically experience the heavier rainfalls. While networks of rainfall gauges have been established and continuous records are available for most of these stations from the 1890s, their low distribution density relative to the complexity of rainfall pattern they are required to represent means that there remains a poor understanding of the spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall in the wet tropics. An enhanced knowledge of rainfall distribution in both space and time has the potential to deliver significant economic and environmental benefits to managers of natural resources. This paper reports on the application of a technique for estimating mean annual and mean monthly rainfall across the Herbert River catchment of north east Australia's dry and wet tropics. The technique utilises thin plate smoothing splines to incorporate both location and elevation into estimates of rainfall distribution. We demonstrate that the method can be applied successfully at the meso scale and within the domain of routinely available data. As such, the method has broad relevance for decision making.
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Keywords: Herbert River catchment; Modelling rainfall distribution; estimation technique; north eastern Australia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: CSIRO Australia

Publication date: 2004-03-01

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