Skip navigation

New research brings greater understanding of Asian winter monsoon

20th September 2023

Scientists have discovered a new technique which will shed light on the phenomena of winter monsoons – the heavy autumn and winter rainfalls which can cause floods and landslides across southeast Asia.

While summer monsoons are well researched and understood, there is currently very limited understanding of winter monsoons – especially of how they have changed during periods when there has been no data available from weather stations.

It has therefore been difficult to make accurate, long-term predictions about the timing and intensity of winter rainfall in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.

The Asian winter monsoon brings significant rainfall to some coastal areas of Vietnam, the Philippines, Southeast India, Sri Lanka and Japan, playing a critical role in agriculture and water resources, as well as natural hazard risks related to flooding and landslides.

These regions include some of the world’s largest food producers and exporters, causing not only the regional economy but also the already precarious global food trade to be vulnerable to changes in winter monsoon rainfall.

Caption:The cave in Vietnam where the stalagmite was discoveredBy examining an 8,000-year-old stalagmite from a cave in central Vietnam, researchers have been able to extract information about changes in seasonal rainfall patterns in Southeast Asia over thousands of years.

And, in a new research breakthrough, they have for the first time been able to distinguish between the rainfall caused by local weather conditions, and that which resulted from conditions across a much wider geographical area.

The investigations were led by Annabel Wolf, a PhD student at Northumbria University at the time of the research, supported by Dr Vasile Ersek, a palaeoclimatologist and geochemist working within Northumbria’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences.

A paper detailing their findings, entitled ‘Decipherin glocal and regional hydroclimate resolves contradicting evidence on the Asian monsoon evolution’, has been published by the journal Nature Communications.

Annabel Wolf, now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Irvine’s Department of Earth System Science, said: “The past evolution of the winter and summer monsoons in Southeast Asia has been debated for decades.

"By examining this stalagmite from Vietnam, we were able to track autumn and winter rainfall over a significant period and, crucially, to differentiate between the rain which had fallen due to local weather systems, and the rain caused by wider regional systems.

"Our main conclusion was that the regional component of the monsoon, caused by atmospheric circulation, shows a contradictory relationship between winter and summer monsoons, driven by insolation in the northern hemisphere.

"However, the results from the local rainfall samples showed a strong connection between summer and winter monsoons.”

The findings of the research mean there is now potential to re-examine samples from other areas in Southeast Asia and extract the local and regional rainfall levels, leading to much greater understanding of how weather patterns have evolved over time and how they may continue to change in future.

In contrast to the very well-studied Southwest Summer Monsoon, there are no robust records documenting the long-term changes in Southeast Asian rainfall associated with the Northeast Winter Monsoon under pre-industrial conditions. This means changes to rainfall in this region over longer timescales are not well understood.

As a result, many climate models underestimate the winter monsoon rainfall by as much as 50%, leaving considerable uncertainty in future climate projections.

Speaking about the research Dr Ersek said: “By shedding light on potential discrepancies in paleoclimate reconstructions, scientists now have a critical tool to refine their understanding of historical climate patterns.

"Our findings have the potential to inform policies and strategies aimed at mitigating the impacts of intense rainfall in Southeast Asia, which becomes more imperative as climate change continues to exert its influence on global weather patterns.”

Read the full paper here.

Find out more about Northumbria University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences.

comments powered by Disqus

Department of Geography

Geography At Northumbria University Encompasses All Of Our Work In Physical And Human Geography, Environmental Science And Management, Health & Safety, And Disaster Management.

Extreme Environments

The guiding vision of Extreme Environments is to understand and harness the physical and biological environments that operate under extreme conditions and stresses, and to develop research that will have tangible impacts on an environmental, technological, economic and societal basis at regional, national and global levels.

The Future of Ice on Earth

Northumbria's academics are studying the future of ice sheets and glaciers worldwide in a warming world. This involves understanding the causes of ongoing changes in Antarctica, Greenland and alpine areas, as well as assessing future changes and resulting impacts on human environments globally.

Volunteering, Humanitarian Crises and Development

Northumbria's academics are understanding the roles diverse volunteers play in meeting critical global challenges can help ensure that volunteers are not exploited, that their local and expert knowledge is recognised, and that the potential of volunteering for making a difference is realised in different contexts and for all volunteers.

Geography and Environmental Studies

Geography and Environmental Studies investigates the increasingly urgent issues affecting the world and its people such as the climate crisis, global sustainable development, solar-terrestrial science and cold climates. 

News and Features

This is the place to find all the latest news releases, feature articles, expert comment, and video and audio clips from Northumbria University

University Newspaper

Northumbria University News is packed full of news and features covering everything from research projects and business partnerships to student and staff awards.

a sign in front of a crowd
+

Northumbria Open Days

Open Days are a great way for you to get a feel of the University, the city of Newcastle upon Tyne and the course(s) you are interested in.

Research at Northumbria
+

Research at Northumbria

Research is the life blood of a University and at Northumbria University we pride ourselves on research that makes a difference; research that has application and affects people's lives.

NU World
+

Explore NU World

Find out what life here is all about. From studying to socialising, term time to downtime, we’ve got it covered.


Latest News and Features

law
Gondola in Venice
Campus Sunset Generic
IVCO 2024
gettyimages/Robert Ingelhart
Seagrass habitats are expanding in some areas, to the surprise of researchers. Matthew Floyd, CC BY-ND
Student Isobel Randall-Evans pictured with handbells
Isabel Quinn and Kevin Murphy, Assistant Professors in Adult Nursing, Dr Claire Pryor, Assistant Professor in Adult Nursing and Pathway Lead for SPQ Adult Nursing and Leanne Hume, Northern Region Lead Nurse Independent Health and Social Care, RCN
More events

Upcoming events

REVEAL: Fine Art
-
REVEAL: Computer and Information Science

Back to top