Epochal Changes in ENSO–Streamflow Relationships in Sri Lanka

Zubair, Lareef M.; Chandimala, Janaki

In an effort to use climate predictions for streamflow and malaria hazard prediction, the decadal variability of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) influence on streamflow and rainfall in the Kelani River in Sri Lanka was investigated based on records from 1925 to 1995. In the last half century, the warm ENSO phase was associated with decreased annual streamflow and the cold ENSO phase with increased streamflow. The annual streamflow had a negative correlation (warm ENSO associated with low streamflow) with the concurrent ENSO index of Niño-3.4 that was significant at the 5% level. This negative correlation with Niño-3.4 is enhanced to a 1% significance level if the aggregate streamflow from January to September alone is considered. There has been a transition in correlation between January–September streamflow and ENSO between the 1950s and 1970s from near or above zero to negative values that have 95% significance levels reminiscent of an epochal shift. This shift was evident when considering the period when the southwest monsoon dominates (April–September) or when correlations were undertaken between the seasonal streamflow and rainfall and the ENSO index in the month prior to each season. Since the relationship between ENSO and Sri Lankan streamflow has strengthened in recent decades the potential for ENSO-based prediction is retained. The epochal shift may also explain why malaria epidemics ceased to co-occur frequently with El Niño episodes after 1945.

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Also Published In

Journal of Hydrometeorology

More About This Work

Academic Units
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
American Meteorological Society
Published Here
September 13, 2011