Seesaw Terrestrial Wetting and Drying Between Eastern and Western Australia

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Australia, the driest inhabited continent, is prone to natural disasters, such as droughts, floods, bushfires, and heatwaves. Strong climate variability causes recurring threats to water supply, agriculture, and the environment. Improving our insight into changes in hydroclimatic patterns is required to provide useful information for society. Previous studies mainly focused on the causes of extreme wet or dry events in specific periods and their impacts on agriculture and ecosystems. An understanding of long-term spatio-temporal patterns of wetting and drying in Australia is still lacking. Here we show, based on analyses of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite derived terrestrial water storage and extended datasets, that there are four consecutive periods of seesaw wetting and drying between eastern and western Australia in the past five decades. The seesaw phenomenon is characterized by eastern Australia gaining water, while western Australia is losing water, and vice versa. Strong La Niña induced continent-wide wetting, resets this pattern, leaving each seesaw to last for 11 ± 5 years. We provide one possible mechanism related to vegetation response to climate variability and its feedback on hydrological processes to explain the seesaw pattern. The identified recurring seesaw pattern indicates that society would need to become more adaptive in managing forest, water, and disaster risks in the wake of a next strong La Niña induced continent-wide wetting in Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020EF001893
Number of pages11
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training
  • seesaw wetting/drying phenomenon
  • terrestrial water storage (TWS)
  • terrestrial water storage (TWS) seesaw pattern
  • La Niña
  • La Niña induced continent-wide wetting
  • vegetation mediated hydrological responses
  • decadal precipitation variability
  • American Geophysical Union


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