Rainfall intensity bursts and the erosion of soils: an analysis highlighting the need for high temporal resolution rainfall data for research under current and future climates

Dunkerley, David L.

Many land surface processes, including splash dislodgment and downslope transport of soil materials, are influenced strongly by short-lived peaks in rainfall intensity but are less well accounted for by longer-term average rates. Specifically, rainfall intensities reached over periods of 10–30 min appear to have more explanatory power than hourly or longer-period data. However, most analyses of rainfall, and particularly scenarios of possible future rainfall extremes under climate change, rely on hourly data. Using two Australian pluviograph records with 1 s resolution, one from an arid and one from a wet tropical climate, the nature of short-lived “intensity bursts” is analysed from the raw inter-tip times of the tipping bucket gauges. Hourly apparent rainfall intensities average just 1.43 mm h−1 at the wet tropical site and 2.12 mm h−1 at the arid site. At the wet tropical site, intensity bursts of extreme intensity occur frequently, those exceeding 30 mm h−1 occurring on average at intervals of <1 d and those of >60 mm h−1 occurring on average at intervals of <2 d. These bursts include falls of 13.2 mm in 4.4 min, the equivalent of 180 mm h−1, and 29 mm in 12.6 min, equivalent to 138 mm h−1. Intensity bursts at the arid site are much less frequent, those of 50–60 mm h−1 occurring at intervals of ∼1 month; moreover, the bursts have a much shorter duration. The aggregation of rainfall data to hourly level conceals the occurrence of many of these short-intensity bursts, which are potentially highly erosive. A short review examines some of the mechanisms through which intensity bursts affect infiltration, overland flow, and soil dislodgment. It is proposed that more attention to resolving these short-lived but important aspects of rainfall climatology is warranted, especially in light of possible changes in rainfall extremes under climate change.

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Dunkerley, David L.: Rainfall intensity bursts and the erosion of soils: an analysis highlighting the need for high temporal resolution rainfall data for research under current and future climates. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: David L. Dunkerley

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