Regime shifts in annual maximum rainfall across Australia – implications for intensity–frequency–duration (IFD) relationships
- Environmental and Climate Change Research Group, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia
Abstract. Rainfall intensity–frequency–duration (IFD) relationships are commonly required for the design and planning of water supply and management systems around the world. Currently, IFD information is based on the "stationary climate assumption" that weather at any point in time will vary randomly and that the underlying climate statistics (including both averages and extremes) will remain constant irrespective of the period of record. However, the validity of this assumption has been questioned over the last 15 years, particularly in Australia, following an improved understanding of the significant impact of climate variability and change occurring on interannual to multidecadal timescales. This paper provides evidence of regime shifts in annual maximum rainfall time series (between 1913–2010) using 96 daily rainfall stations and 66 sub-daily rainfall stations across Australia. Furthermore, the effect of these regime shifts on the resulting IFD estimates are explored for three long-term (1913–2010) sub-daily rainfall records (Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne) utilizing insights into multidecadal climate variability. It is demonstrated that IFD relationships may under- or over-estimate the design rainfall depending on the length and time period spanned by the rainfall data used to develop the IFD information. It is recommended that regime shifts in annual maximum rainfall be explicitly considered and appropriately treated in the ongoing revisions of the Engineers Australia guide to estimating and utilizing IFD information, Australian Rainfall and Runoff (ARR), and that clear guidance needs to be provided on how to deal with the issue of regime shifts in extreme events (irrespective of whether this is due to natural or anthropogenic climate change). The findings of our study also have important implications for other regions of the world that exhibit considerable hydroclimatic variability and where IFD information is based on relatively short data sets.