Climate inference on daily rainfall across the Australian continent, 1876-2015

Michael Bertolacci, Edward Cripps, Ori Rosen, John W. Lau, Sally Cripps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Daily precipitation has an enormous impact on human activity, and the study of how it varies over time and space, and what global indicators influence it, is of paramount importance to Australian agriculture. We analyze over 294 million daily rainfall measurements since 1876, spanning 17,606 sites across continental Australia. The data are not only large but also complex, and the topic would benefit from a common and publicly available statistical framework. We propose a Bayesian hierarchical mixture model that accommodates mixed discrete-continuous data. The observational level describes site-specific temporal and climatic variation via a mixture-of-experts model. At the next level of the hierarchy, spatial variability of the mixture weights' parameters is modeled by a spatial Gaussian process prior. A parallel and distributed Markov chain Monte Carlo sampler is developed which scales the model to large data sets. We present examples of posterior inference on the mixture weights, monthly intensity levels, daily temporal dependence, offsite prediction of the effects of climate drivers and long-term rainfall trends across the entire continent. Computer code implementing the methods proposed in this paper is available as an R package.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-712
Number of pages30
JournalAnnals of Applied Statistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

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