School of Earth Sciences - Theses

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    Antarctic sea ice and its interactions with high latitude weather and climate
    Watkins, Andrew Bruce ( 1998)
    Antarctic sea ice plays a major role in the earth system by greatly influencing the high latitude exchanges of heat, moisture and momentum between the ocean and atmosphere, as well as profoundly effecting the salt budget of the ocean, and thus the production of Antarctic Bottom Water, one of the driving mechanisms of worldwide oceanic circulation. With such considerable and far reaching impact, it is important to document its climatology, understand its variability and quantify its influence. Climatologies and trends of the Southern Ocean sea ice pack are presented using the most recent satellite observations available from the Defense Meteorological Program’s (DMSP) Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I). The analysis of these data show that Antarctic sea ice is highly variable in both time and space. Statistically significant increases in the sea ice extent, open water and ice areas have been determined from the SSM/I data for the 9 year period 1987 to 1996, a result which differs from the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) observations (1978-1987). The increasing trend in the SSM/I observations can be attributed to the large increases in sea ice observed in 1994-1995, as confirmed by an analysis of data from the ERS-1 satellite. The mean season length during these years has remained relatively unchanged. Regional trends, both in the sea ice concentration and in season length, showed vast spatial inhomogeneity. SSM/I data displayed increasing season length in the central Weddell Sea, Bellingshausen Sea and Balleny Islands regions, with decreasing length in the Amundsen Sea, eastern Ross Sea and in the coastal areas off Wilkes Land. Similar trends are observed in the seasonal sea ice concentration. In most cases, these trends are opposite to those observed in the SMMR data, which may be linked to the shift observed in the Amundsen Sea low after 1990. Comparisons with historical data would suggest that no large scale anomalous change has occurred in the Antarctic sea ice limits over the course of human observation. Furthermore, the degree of variability suggests great care is needed in interpreting large scale changes in sea ice conditions, and hence atmospheric or oceanic change, from locally observed anomalies. Case studies of the effect of individual cyclones upon the sea ice concentration show small but definite modification of the ice conditions. To further diagnose aspects of the thermodynamic and dynamic forcing upon the Antarctic pack, detailed analysis of the sea ice concentration variability has been conducted using spectral techniques, and the spectra have been compared to those of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) temperature and wind data. In all cases, and with the seasonal cycle removed, the sea ice concentration shows a bias towards longer timescales of variability than either the wind stress or surface air temperature. This “red shift” in its frequency spectrum is strongest with the wind stress, and weakest with the temperature. For longer period waves, this may be due to the formation of new ice by surface cooling or the moderation of melting by the cold surface water, whereas for shorter period waves, where wind stress dominates temperature and ice concentration respectively, time is required for winds to draw in warmer or cooler air, as well as to overcome the ice masses inertia and keel friction to open or close leads. Strong intraseasonal variability of the sea ice concentration is observed in the 20-25 day period, reflecting similar timescales of the temperature variability, as well as that of the energetic eddies of the Antarctic circumpolar current. Examination of the latitudinal variation of the sea ice concentration, temperature and wind stress spectra showed not only the importance of the north-south temperature gradient in influencing the variability, but also the seasonal changes in the semi annual oscillation of the circumpolar trough. Regional spectra showed clear differences between location, and reflected the influences of the atmosphere and ocean upon the sea ice pack. This is clearly shown in the Weddell Polynya region and off East Antarctica, with high variability in the synoptic timescales, and in the western Ross Sea where changes occur in timescales of greater than 20 days. In order to determine if satellite derived, real time sea ice concentration and distribution would be of benefit to operational numerical weather prediction (NWP) schemes, the effect of sea ice concentration change upon the atmosphere in synoptic timescales was examined using a general circulation model in conjunction with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s GASP analyses. Experiments were conducted with a typical July sea ice concentration and distribution, as well as slab concentrations of 0, 10, 25, 50, 80 and 100%. Results from 5-day numerical weather forecasts show that the central pressure, structure and tracks of individual cyclones are sensitive to the ‘switch on’ of different sea ice conditions. Composites of all forecasts made with each concentration showed considerable, and mostly statistically significant, anomalies in the surface temperatures and turbulent heat fluxes over the sea ice. The magnitudes of these changes varied monotonically with the area of open water. The largest changes were simulated closest to the coast for all concentrations except for the typical July sea ice run, which displayed maxima over the outer pack. Significant westerly anomalies were induced over the ice in all cases, as were reductions in mean sea level pressure. The July sea ice runs displayed a distribution of the mean sea level pressure anomaly different from all others, with maxima occurring in the central to outer pack. All other forecasts displayed maxima at the coast. The results suggest that sea ice concentration does induce anomalies in the atmospheric parameters in timescales of less than five days. Further, the use of a realistic distribution of sea ice concentration produces results distinct from the constant concentration forecasts. Hence it is suggested that real time Antarctic sea ice data may be of considerable benefit to numerical weather prediction models.
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    The weather and climate of Australia at the Last Glacial Maximum
    Hope, Pandora ( 2005)
    The global climate has experienced four glacial cycles in the last 420,000 years, with each cycle characterised by a prolonged period of cooling culminating in maximal glaciation followed by a brief warm period. The most recent period of maximal glaciation is termed the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and occurred about 21,000 years ago. We currently live in one of the warm periods. The global climate is changing, and it is becoming more important to understand the extremes of the climate system and how well our modelling capability can capture those extremes. There has been a modelling intercomparison project established to examine how global general circulation models compare in simulating past climates, including the LGM. Analysis and comparison of these model results has been presented for many parts of the globe, but there has not been a comparison of the different model results over the Australian region. This thesis aims to fill that gap and explore the simulated LGM weather and climate of Australia and its drivers in more detail. Comparison with proxy evidence is also undertaken, and inconsistencies seen in the literature addressed. The Australian climate at the LGM was believed to be generally cooler, drier and possibly windier from proxy evidence in the literature. In the comparison done here the mean temperature and precipitation fields from most models show cooler and drier conditions, with some seasonal variability, but there are some strong outliers. It was found that the differences were not dependent on model resolution, but that the surface parameterisations were highly important for these fields. The shifts in the circulation were examined both in the model results and with a study of the non-linear link between the wind, surface moisture and dunes, which are a proxy for past winds. All the models simulate a southward shift in the westerlies in the Australian region. This is strongly driven byte prescribed sea-surface temperatures. Australia's current wind regime is conducive to dune building. However, the binding effect of soil moisture (or vegetation) is strong enough to limit present day movement, whereas in the drier climate at the LGM there was a capacity for sand movement. The analysis of dune orientations did not produce conclusive evidence for how the westerlies might have shifted at the LGM. An apparent enigma in the proxy evidence at the LGM is the high lake levels in Australia’s south east, while most inland lakes were dry. Previous authors believed that the precipitation was still low, but the high lake levels were driven by lowered potential evaporation. The hydrological cycle was generally depressed in the LGM simulations, but the potential for evaporation remained high. Thus an alternative hypothesis is posed based on increased run off due to a known shift in the vegetation types and a lag in the timing of the run off due to snowmelt. The analysis here shows that our capacity to simulate climates quite different from the present is still developing, but that model results can help explain apparent inconsistencies in the reconstruction of past climates from proxies.
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    High resolution solar exposure estimates from geosynchronous satellite observations for climate and near real-time applications
    Weymouth, Gary Trevor ( 1998)
    This thesis describes research and development work undertaken to produce a satellite based near-real time high resolution (6 to 24 km) surface solar exposure estimation system. Physical models of radiative transfer within the atmosphere have been developed to produce the estimates of exposure for the entire Australian continent from full resolution hourly visible Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS) Stretched-Visible and Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer (S-VISSR) data. This thesis describes the exposure estimation system, including details of the physical processes modelled. The accuracy of the exposure data is presented. The first high resolution climatology of exposure across Australia is also presented and discussed. Detailed charts of mean daily exposure for each month and annual mean daily exposure form part of the climatology, based on the period November 1990 to June 1994 inclusive. Annual and four-monthly charts are compared to the available Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) National Climate Centre (NCC) Solar Radiation Atlas (1975) charts based on cloud and sunshine records for the period 1968 to 1974 inclusive. Generally the agreement is good, with the satellite system providing greater spatial and temporal (all months) detail, some significant differences and higher accuracy. The satellite climatology shows that minimum exposure in the far north occurs in February due to the monsoon even though the sub-solar point is at a similar latitude. During the monsoon, the exposure minimum over Cape York is seen to shift from the east to the west side. Considerable detail of coastal and orographic exposure gradients about the east and southeast coasts is available. Other features seen for the first time are also presented. For exposure estimation, the model of Diak and Gautier (1983) has been developed further and carefully tuned for use with GMS-4 data (1990 to 1994). Extensive changes have been made to this model to use data from GMS-5, which replaced GMS- 4 in May 1995. GMS-5 has a sensor response extending from the visible to the near-infrared. The GMS-5 based model now runs operationally within the BoM, using total precipitable water estimates from the BoM regional numerical weather prediction (NWP) system, and real-time ozone estimates from the local readout of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites. The models perform best in clear-sky conditions, with the average deviation of spatially-averaged daily model estimates from surface-based point pyranometer data being less than 5% (less than 4% against available high quality pyranometer data). In cloudy conditions, the average percentage deviation is larger. Australia-wide estimates of the accuracy of satellite-based exposure estimates have been developed. Over most of the continent, typical cloud conditions lead to daily estimates being within 8% of collocated point pyranometer measurements. No other high-resolution data set is available for direct comparison. However, results achieved here are comparable to or better than those reported for other locations. In clear-sky conditions, results presented here are as accurate as measurements from well-maintained good-quality pyranometers. The spatial and temporal variability of the exposure data has also been examined. From this, it has been estimated that over typical Australian agricultural areas, daily satellite exposure estimates are more accurate than extrapolation from a high-accuracy pyranometer more than 20 to 50 km distant. The exposure data have already been used for crop modelling purposes, as an aid to siting of high-quality ground-based measurements for a solar-thermal power station feasibility study, and for hydrological modelling. Such applications, while briefly discussed, are outside the focus of this thesis.