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Drought frequency changes in Sabah and adjacent parts of northern Borneo since the late nineteenth century and possible implications for tropical rain forest dynamics

  • Rory P. D. Walsh (a1)

Abstract

Archival rainfall data are used to investigate changes in drought frequency and severity in Sabah and other parts of northern Borneo since the late nineteenth century. Two measures of drought severity are used: drought duration (given by the number of consecutive months with less than 100 mm rain); and drought intensity (indexed by the cumulative rainfall deficit below 100 mm per month of a drought sequence). Within northern Borneo dry periods are very short (>3 months) and infrequent in Sarawak, south-western Sabah, Brunei and central and western Kalimantan; droughts occur seasonally, but are comparatively short in north-western Sabah; droughts are less frequent) but more severe in eastern Sabah and parts of eastern Kalimantan. In coastal Sabah and Brunei, there has been a statistically significant increase in the frequency and severity of droughts since the late 1960s. At Sandakan, two drought-prone epochs in 1877–1915 and 1968–92 (each experiencing five droughts of at least 4 months duration) are identified, separated by a 52-year period that was nearly drought-free. At Sandakan also, the ecologically damaging 1982–3 drought was neither as long or severe as those of 1903 and 1915. Links with El Niño-Southern Oscillation events are found to be not as strong as previous studies have suggested. Possible implications of the spatial and temporal patterns in drought magnitude-frequency for differences in tropical rain forest character within the region are discussed.

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