Tropical drought patterns and their linkages to large-scale climate variability over Peninsular Malaysia

Qing He, Kwok Pan Chun, Mou Leong Tan, Bastien Dieppois, Juneng Liew, Julian Klaus, Matthieu Fournier, Nicolas Massei, Omer Yetemen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ocean-atmosphere modes of climate variability in the Pacific and Indian oceans, as well as monsoons, regulate the regional wet and dry episodes in tropical regions. However, how those modes of climate variability, and their interactions, lead to spatial differences in drought patterns over tropical Asia at seasonal- to interannual time scales remains unclear. This study aims to analyse the hydroclimate processes for both short- and long-term spatial drought patterns (3-, 6, 12- and 24-months) over Peninsular Malaysia using the Standardized Precipitation Index, Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index, and Palmer Drought Severity Index. Besides that, a generalised least squares regression is used to explore underlying circulation mechanisms of these spatio-temporal drought patterns. The tested drought indices indicate a tendency toward wetter conditions over Peninsular Malaysia. Based on principal component analysis, distinct spatio-temporal drought patterns are revealed, suggesting North-South and East-West gradients in drought distribution. The Pacific El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the South Western Indian Ocean (SWIO) variability, and the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) are significant contributors to the observed spatio-temporal variability in drought. Both ENSO and SWIO modulate the North-South gradient in drought conditions over Peninsular Malaysia, while the QBO contributes more to the East-West gradient. Through modulating regional moisture fluxes, the warm phases of ENSO and SWIO, and the western phases of QBO weaken the southwest monsoon and northeast monsoon (NEM), leading to precipitation deficits and droughts over Peninsular Malaysia. The East-West or North-South gradients in droughts are related to the middle mountains blocking southwest and northeast moisture fluxes toward Peninsular Malaysia. In addition, the ENSO and QBO variations are significantly leading to short-term droughts (less than a year), while SWIO is significantly associated with longer-duration droughts (two years or more). Overall, this work demonstrates how spatio-temporal drought patterns in tropical regions are related to monsoons and moisture transports affected by the oscillations over the Pacific and Indian oceans, which is important for national water risk management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
JournalHydrological Processes
Early online date23 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Aug 2021


  • Peninsular Malaysia
  • Spatio-temporal drought
  • El Nino Southern Oscillation
  • South Western Indian Ocean
  • Quasi-Biennial Oscillation
  • Tropical Interannual variation


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