500 Years of rainfall variability and extreme hydrological events in southeastern Spain drylands

Año Publicación:  2011
Responsable: M. J. Machado et al.
Journal, Volumen y páginas:
Journal of Arid Environments, 75(12), 1244–1253


M. J. Machado, G. Benito, M. Barriendos & F. Sánchez-Rodrigo


The semiarid SE fringe of the Iberian Peninsula is considered one of the most sensitive to extreme floods and droughts in the western Mediterranean area. The controlling climatic mechanisms are nevertheless difficult to predict and model. A combined documentary-sedimentary-instrumental 500 years comprehensive register of climatic data (rainfall and flooding) was collated for analysing the decadal to centennial scale hydrological response. Wet years are closely linked to the presence of autumn (SON) positive anomalies (e.g. early 18th century). However, continuous, decadal wet periods seem to correspond in time to both autumn and spring (MAM) positive rainfall anomaly years (e.g. 1570/90, 1830/40, 1870/1900). High frequencies of large floods were registered during the late Medieval Warm Period (AD 950–1200), and during some decades of the Littler Ice Age with an average of 0.22 floods/year (1440–1490, 1520–1570, 1600–1740, 1770–1800, 1820–1840, 1870–1900), but flood frequency decreased in the 20th Century (1945–1973; 0.14 floods/year). During wet phases (e.g. late 19th century), large floods occurred during all seasons, whereas a predominantly autumn extreme flooding (>70%) is linked to a rainfall patterns with higher inter-annual variability (e.g. 1945–1973). The recurrence of dry phases is higher since early 17th century, and the frequency of continuous wetter phases lower than the ones with marked annual variability. This results in a trend with less frequent high magnitude catastrophic floods. This study confirms a shift from autumn rainfall maxima towards winter since the early 1990's. The tendency towards longer dry periods and increased inter-annual variability (with 1–3 years maximum wet spells) and a changing seasonal rainfall distribution are thought to be key in modelling projections for this specific arid Mediterranean region.

Keywords: Droughts, Floods, Historical climatology, Palaeoflood hydrology, Southeastern Spain

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