General circulation model experiments test the geologically based correlation of high monsoon rainfall over interior Australia with Northern Hemisphere insolation and evaluate the sensitivity of the Australian Monsoon to ecosystem change. Our results suggest that Northern Hemisphere insolation control on the intensity of the Siberian High, rather than summer insolation over the Australian continent, determines the strength of the Australian Monsoon on millennial time scales, unlike a classic monsoon regime. Additional simulations show that the penetration of monsoon moisture into the interior is sensitive to biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks linked to vegetation type and soil properties. This sensitivity offers a resolution to the observed failure of the Australian Monsoon to penetrate the interior in the Holocene. Postulated regular burning practiced by early humans may have converted a tree-shrub-grassland mosaic across the semiarid zone to the modern desert scrub, thereby weakening biospheric feedbacks and resulting in long-term desertification of the continent.
- Received 3 August 2004.
- Revision received 27 September 2004.
- Accepted 29 September 2004.
- Geological Society of America