Detection, attribution, and projection of regional rainfall changes on (multi-) decadal time scales: A focus on southeastern South America

Honghai Zhang, Thomas L. Delworth, Fanrong Zeng, Gabriel Vecchi, Karen Paffendorf, Liwei Jia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Observed austral summertime (November through April) rainfall in southeastern South America (SESA)-including northern Argentina, Uruguay, southern Brazil, and Paraguay-has exhibited substantial low-frequency variations with a multidecadal moistening trend during the twentieth century and a subsequent decadal drying trend during the current century. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for these variations is essential for predicting long-term rainfall changes. Here with a suite of attribution experiments using a pair of high-resolution global climate models, GFDL CM2.5 and FLOR-FA, the authors investigate the causes of these regional rainfall variations. Both models reproduce the twentieth-century moistening trend, albeit with a weaker magnitude than observed, in response to the radiative forcing associated with increasing greenhouse gases. The increasing greenhouse gases drive tropical expansion; consequently, the subtropical dry branch of Hadley cell moves away from SESA, leading to the rainfall increase. The amplitude discrepancy between the observed and simulated rainfall changes suggests a possible underestimation by the models of the atmospheric response to the radiative forcing, as well as an important role for low-frequency internal variability in the observed moistening trend. Over the current century, increasing greenhouse gases drive a continuous SESA rainfall increase in the models. However, the observed decadal rainfall decline is largely (~60%) reproduced in response to the observed Pacific trade wind strengthening, which is likely associated with natural Pacific decadal variability. These results suggest that the recent summertime rainfall decline in SESA is temporary and that the positive trend will resume in response to both increasing greenhouse gases and a return of Pacific trade winds to normal conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8515-8534
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number23
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Atmospheric circulation
  • Climate models
  • Decadal variability
  • Hydrologic cycle
  • Multidecadal variability
  • South America


Dive into the research topics of 'Detection, attribution, and projection of regional rainfall changes on (multi-) decadal time scales: A focus on southeastern South America'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this