Terrestrial teleconnections link global rivers

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Abstract


We present analyses of river discharge data from across the world, which we used to identify links between annual river flow regimes across different continents. Our hypothesis was that, as atmospheric processes are subject to large-scale teleconnection patterns, and because these atmospheric processes are inherently linked to precipitation regimes across the world, there should be identifiable links between river flow regimes driven by these atmospheric processes.
We used discharge data from the Global Runoff Data Centre (GRDC) to identify cross-correlations (and accounted for serial dependence) between 23 of the world’s largest river basins where overlapping data were available over a period of 12 years or more: two in South America; five in Africa; one in Australasia; five in North America and ten in Eurasia. The selected river basins drain approximately a third of the Earth’s landmass at their furthest downstream gauging station. Where significant cross-correlations were found, we compared these to known patterns associated with the ENSO and NAO teleconnections.
In total, 85 of the 253 possible correlations were deemed significant at p<0.05, this reduced to 36 at p<0.01 and 21 at p<0.001. Of the significant correlations (p<0.05), 22 were classified as strong (r ≥± 0.5), 45 as moderate (±0.5< r ≥±0.25) and 18 as weak (±0.25< r >0). We compared these significant cross-correlations with known atmospheric teleconnection patterns, and while these were consistent for the majority of cases, we found a number of significant correlations that are inconsistent with the anticipated effects of known atmospheric teleconnections.
Our results provide new insight into the inter-continental links between global river systems and the way in which these are controlled by large-scale atmospheric processes. We suggest this may be useful for global industries, such as insurers or aid agencies, who seek to understand correlations between the magnitudes of extreme events across different regions of the world. For the former, this may enable more efficient management of global liabilities, for the latter it may enable better logistical planning of disaster relief requirements. Aside from these practical applications, the results also suggest teleconnections exist between terrestrial, as well as ocean and atmospheric water systems.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2013
EventFall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union - San Francisco, United States
Duration: 9 Dec 201313 Dec 2013


ConferenceFall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Francisco

Structured keywords

  • Water and Environmental Engineering


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