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

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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 generalized least squares regression is used to explore underlying circulation mechanisms of these spatio-temporal drought patterns. The tested drought indices indicate a tendency towards 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 the ENSO and the 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 the ENSO and the SWIO, and the western phases of the QBO weaken the southwest and northeast monsoon, 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 towards Peninsular Malaysia. In addition, the ENSO and QBO variations are significantly leading to short-term droughts (less than a year), while the SWIO is significantly associated with longer-duration droughts (2 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
Article numbere14356
Number of pages24
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number9
Early online date23 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: He, Q, Chun, KP, Tan, ML, Dieppois, B, Liew, J, Klaus, J, Fournier, M, Massei, N & Yetemen, O 2021, 'Tropical drought patterns and their linkages to large-scale climate variability over Peninsular Malaysia', Hydrological Processes, vol. 35, no. 9, e14356, pp. (In-Press)., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.


This study was supported by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) 2232 grant (118C329). The study also funded by the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia under the Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (203.PHUMANITI.6711695). This research was conducted using the resources of the High Performance Cluster Computing Centre, Hong Kong Baptist University, which receives funding from Research Grant Council, University Grant Committee of the HKSAR and Hong Kong Baptist University. The drought approach in the paper was developed from the PROCORE‐France/Hong Kong Joint Research Scheme 2020/21 (F‐HKBU201/20).


  • El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
  • Peninsular Malaysia
  • South Western Indian Ocean (SWIO)
  • quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO)
  • spatiotemporal droughts
  • tropical interannual variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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