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Prediction of East African Seasonal Rainfall Using Simplex Canonical

Correlation Analysis
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

11 September 2001 and 12 December 2002

A linear statistical model, canonical correlation analysis (CCA), was driven by the NelderMead simplex
optimization algorithm (called CCA-NMS) to predict the standardized seasonal rainfall totals of East Africa at
3-month lead time using SLP and SST anomaly fields of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans combined together by
24 simplex optimized weights, and then reduced by the principal component analysis. Applying the optimized
weights to the predictor fields produced better MarchAprilMay (MAM) and SeptemberOctoberNovember
(SON) seasonal rain forecasts than a direct application of the same, unweighted predictor fields to CCA at both
calibration and validation stages. Northeastern Tanzania and south-central Kenya had the best SON prediction
results with both validation correlation and HanssenKuipers skill scores exceeding 10.3. The MAM season
was better predicted in the western parts of East Africa. The CCA correlation maps showed that low SON rainfall
in East Africa is associated with cold SSTs off the Somali coast and the Benguela (Angola) coast, and low
MAM rainfall is associated with a buildup of low SSTs in the Indian Ocean adjacent to East Africa and the
Gulf of Guinea.

1. Introduction ticipating countries and numerical weather prediction

data from the Meteorological Data Distributed (MDD)
The rainfall in East Africa (Uganda, Kenya, and Tan- systems on a daily basis. Every month, conditions on
zania) exhibits great spatial and temporal variability El NinoSouthern Oscillation (ENSO), sea surface tem-
(Ogallo 1989) partly due to the complex topography, perature (SST), and other anomalies are obtained from
the existence of large inland lakes such as Lake Victoria, the Climate Prediction Center (Washington, D.C.) and
the Indian Ocean in the east, and the seasonal migration the National Climate Centre (Melbourne, Australia).
of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). These The MDD products are used to predict rainfall patterns
complexities produce diverse climates ranging from hu- in the following 10 days while the seasonal forecast is
mid tropical to arid in East Africa where serious me- formulated on the basis of ENSO, SST, and other in-
teorological droughts or low rainfall have been a con- dices. The meteorological departments of the regions
stant threat (Ntale 2001). Trewartha (1981) attributed
participating countries then review the products from
this rainfall deficiency to the divergent characteristics
DMNC and at times adjust them according to some
and modest thickness of monsoon winds, strong merid-
known local relationships; for example, the Uganda me-
ian winds that limit the advection of sea moisture, and
teorological department enhances the DMNC seasonal
a stable stratification of air with a marked decline in
products. There have been past studies teleconnecting
moisture content.
climatic signals such as SST with East African rainfall
The Drought Monitoring Center in Nairobi (DMNC)
acquires near-real-time meteorological data from par- (e.g., Nicholson and Kim 1997). Even though climate
dynamics are predominantly nonlinear, linear models
such as the canonical correlation analysis (CCA) are
* Current affiliation: Department of Civil Engineering, Makerere
usually preferred over nonlinear models partly because
University, Kampala, Uganda. they are relatively easy to apply, for example, Shabbar
and Barnston (1996). Although CCA is considered ac-
curate when compared with other statistical methods
Corresponding author address: Dr. Thian Yew Gan, School of
Mining and Petroleum Energy, 220 Civil Electrical Engineering
such as the Markov models and empirical orthogonal
Bldg., University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6B 2G7, Canada. function (EOF) extrapolation, room for improvement
E-mail: still exists in the algorithm (e.g., Shen et al. 2001)

q 2003 American Meteorological Society


FIG. 2. Optimized SST (first number) and SLP (second number)

weights obtained by NMS for the 190086 calibration data (44-yr
moving window) that comprises the previous 6 months of SST and
SLP fields for SON prediction.

season throughout Uganda and Kenya due to the pres-

ence of the moist southeast monsoons from the Indian
Ocean converging into the ITCZ. Summer [JuneJuly
FIG. 1. Map of East Africa showing the rainfall grids. August (JJA)] is relatively dry except in northern Ugan-
da where there is influx of the moist westerly Congo
air mass (Basalirwa 1995). Autumn [SeptemberOcto-
2. Research objectives berNovember (SON)], or the short rains, is asso-
To achieve the objectives of examining how East Af- ciated with the convergence into the ITCZ of the north-
rican rainfall teleconnects to large-scale climatic signals, east monsoons controlled by subtropical anticyclones
and predicting its seasonal rainfall at one or more sea- over the Azores and Arabian Peninsula. We focus on
sonal lead times with good prediction skill, we propose MAM and SON seasons that together contribute more
using a CCA model based on predictor fields combined than 70% of the annual rainfall in many parts of East
by weights optimally estimated via a direct search al- Africa. We chose the 58 3 58 SST (18562000) and 58
gorithm called simplex (Nelder and Mead 1965; here- 3 58 SLP [18712000; the global mean sea level pres-
after referred to as NMS). Rather than using only one sure dataset (GMSLP2.1); Basnett and Parker 1997] grid
climatic signal as in the past to improve the forecast data in selected zones in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans
skill of CCA, at the calibration stage NMS systemati- as the predictor fields and transformed them as anom-
cally optimizes some weights to combine SST and sea alies with respect to the 196190 base period. We ex-
level pressure (SLP) of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans cluded grid points with more than 20% of missing data.
as the optimum predictor fields to CCA. Further, we
classified East Africa into six homogenous rainfall zones 4. Research methodology
(Ntale 2001). This contrasts with Ogallo (1989) and
Basalirwa (1995) who divided East Africa into over 20 CCA was calibrated by NMS, which iteratively search-
zones, which are too many for our purpose. es for optimum weights to combine predictor fields (SST
and SLP) to maximize its skill for predicting the seasonal
rainfall of East Africa at the 3-month lead time. The
3. Rainfall climate of East Africa
predictor field was divided into 13 zones (Fig. 2) whose
The 190097 East African monthly precipitation data SLP and SST anomalies were weighted with separate
we used was gridded at 2.58 latitude by 3.758 longitude weights, so that the parameter space is of size 24, 13 for
resolution (Hulme 1994; see our Fig. 1). The East Af- SST, and 11 for SLP. Two zones had insufficient SLP
rican Meteorological Department (1963) generalized its data and were excluded from the analysis, for example,
rainfall distribution patterns into four seasons. During zones with missing SLP weights in Fig. 2.
the winter season [DecemberJanuaryFebruary (DJF)], NMS is executed as follows: we first assign one set
the ITCZ is far to the south outside the East African of n p (524 in this case) initial weights to the SST and
region and any rainfall in Uganda and Kenya are as- SLP grid data in the 24 zones, and then NMS uses these
sociated with regional features. Spring [MarchApril weights to expand to (n p 1 1) sets of weights, each of
May (MAM)] or the long rains is the main rainy size n p . For an n p dimensional space, one can perceive

that NMS generates a geometric figure of (n p 1 1) sides. systematically search for optimal predictor weights in
From here NMS 1) assigns one of the (n p 1 1) sets of CCA applications.
weights to the predictor fields (section 4a); 2) truncates In the first CCA model run, a 44-yr moving window
the weighted, linearly combined predictor fields by the was used while in the second run, a 60-yr moving win-
unrotated principal component analysis (PCA); 3) inputs dow was used. For example, the CCA model run using
the retained principal components (PCs) into CCA to a 44-yr moving window proceeded as follows: the MAM
predict precipitation (xpred ) for the n grids (Fig. 1); and and JJA SST and SLP weighted data for 190043 was
4) computes a mean-square error objective function used to predict the 1943 SON rainfall of East Africa,
(OF) [Eq. (1)] based on the correlation ( r ) between xpred then sliding the window by 1 yr, the 190144 MAM
and observed precipitation (xobs ), their means (m), and and JJA predictors were used to predict the 1944 SON
standard deviations (s): rainfall, and so on until 194386 MAM and JJA pre-

O [r 2 1r 2 ss 2 2 1m
dictor data was used to predict the 1986 SON rainfall.
OF 5 2

2 pred

pred2 mobs
sobs 2

] . (1) The calibrated CCA (e.g., 24 optimized weights) was

also validated with data independent of the calibration
experience, for example, 198797. A moving window
On the basis of the OF computed for each set of weights, provides the flexibility of choosing a data size and a
NMS strategically searches for other sets of weights in period desired. We used two previous seasons (say
the parameter space to replace weights having the worst MAM and JJA) that account for some temporal evo-
OF through three operations: reflections, expansions, lution of the teleconnection taking place in the last 6
and contractions. If a reflection about the centroid of months to predict a given season (say SON) rainfall at
the (n p 1 1) sides results in improvement in the OF, then one-season lead time (Ogallo 1989). The total dimen-
an expansion in the same direction to search for even better sion of the predictor matrix (p) was 554 or (144 SST
weights is attempted; otherwise, a contraction is used to 1 133 SLP) grid points 3 two seasons, while that of
search for better weights. Procedures 13 are repeated the predictant (q) was 21.
thousands of times until the OF is minimized, which is
equivalent to maximizing the CCA forecast skill at the
calibration stage. [Details about NMS are available from b. Canonical correlation analysis and principal
Web sites such as, component analysis
com, or Numerical Recipes by Press et al. (1988)]. For On the basis of the intercorrelation between two mul-
diagnostic purposes, we also used the calibrated CCA tivariate datasets (predictor x and predictand y), canon-
to analyze a composite dataset consisting of the driest ical vectors, and the linear projection of one dataset to
(lowest 10%) SON rain seasons in the 190097 East the dimensional space of another, CCA uses x to predict
African record. y in a least squares sense. Readers interested in the
details of CCA can refer to Glahn (1968) and Barnett
a. Predictor field (SLP 1 SST) setup and Preisendorfer (1987). To reduce the size of input
data and to filter out data noise, we retain only a limited
The predictor field was divided into 13 zones (boxes number of dominant EOF or PCA modes as input to
shown in Fig. 2) whose SLP and SST anomalies were CCA. In our CCAPCA system, only unrotated PCA
weighted with separate weights, such that 13 was for are used because they have the ability to extract maximal
SST and 11 for SLP, giving a parameter space of size variance from the dataset. Further, their spatial, temporal
24. Two zones (boxes in Fig. 2 only with one weight orthogonality and their pattern are insensitive to the
each) that are poorly sampled with insufficient SLP data number of PCs retained.
were excluded. The predictor fields (SST and SLP) have
different units that could impact the nature of PCA ex-
5. Results and discussion
tracted for CCA. If predictor fields have the same units,
of relatively uniform sampling density and quality, then When a moving window of 60 yr was used to calibrate
they should be weighted equally. However, our predictor CCA, a total of 7 predictand and 11 predictor PCs were
fields have different units and nonuniform sampling retained (Fig. 3). The scree plot (Fig. 3c) shows that
density. The tedious search for optimal weights (Fig. 2) more than 30 eigenvalues .1 but the inflection point
by NMS involves massive computations since each it- occurs at around the sixth eigenvalue and only the first
eration means a complete simulation run for CCA. The 11 PCs were chosen to represent the combined predictor
SST and SLP zones assigned with larger weights by field. While the variance extracted by the predictand
NMS probably contribute more to the variability of the PCs remains relatively steady to 1997, that extracted by
several PCA used in CCA. Shabbar and Barnston (1996) the predictor PCs monotonically increased during the
and Hwang et al. (2001) sought to account for this by 1980s but leveled off in the 1990s. The 11 predictand
subjectively apportioning heavier weights to those pre- PCs explained about 87% of the rainfall variance (Fig.
dictor fields that they conjectured to be more important 3b) while the 11 predictor PCs explained about 63% of
to CCA. As far as we know, this is the first attempt to the combined SLP and SST variance (Fig. 3d).

FIG. 3. (a) The eigenvalues arranged in descending order (scree plot) for the MAM rainfall, (b) the temporal
change of % variance extracted by 5 and 7 PCs with respect to the location of the 60-yr moving window, (c) the
eigenvalues for the combined predictor field composed of the previous SON and DJF SST and SLP anomalies, and
(d) temporal change of % variance extracted by 11 and 15 PCs for predictor fields.

The optimal weights for the predictor fields obtained rainfall is grouped into categories such as dry, near
by NMS were generally close to unity (0.981.01) ex- normal, and wet. Tercile percentages of below 33%,
cept that the SST weight of SON in the northeastern 33%66%, and above 66% may be used to define the
sectors of the Indian Ocean was 1.23 (Fig. 2). The same categories in a square contingency table (Table 1). Here
happened for MAM except for the SLP weight around
H 2 Ec
the southeastern Indian Ocean of 0.65 and a bigger HK 5 , (2)
weight (1.11) for the Atlantic Ocean (figure not shown), T 2 Em
which likely suggests that the MAM rainfall is telecon- where H is the total number of correct forecasts, T is
nected to the Gulf of Guinea (Trewartha 1981; Okoola the total number of forecasts obtainable with a perfect
1999). The canonical roots obtained from the model forecast model, E c is the number of correct hits expected
were generally modest, with the first root averaging be- by chance, and E m is the marginal number of correct
tween 0.7 and 0.9 for SON (Fig. 4). Since canonical (observation) hits expected by chance. For a K 3 K
roots change in magnitude as the moving window width contingency table, the HK score may be expressed in
changes, it means that the predictandpredictor rela- terms of probabilities as
tionship changes with time.
O p(obs , pre ) 2 O p(obs )p(pre )

i i i i

HK 5
i51 i51

1 2 O [p(obs )]
a. Predictive skill of CCA K , (3)
The predictive skill of CCA was assessed at both the j

calibration and validation stages using correlation ( r ),


root-mean-square error (rmse), and the HanssenKui- where obs i and pre i are the ith observed and predicted
pers (HK) skill score (Hanssen and Kuipers 1965). To values. For example, in Table 1 the probability of the
compute the HK skill score, the predicted and observed correct forecasts p(obs i , pre i ) is 23/43. The HK score

FIG. 4. Variations of the first and second canonical roots for the SON prediction experiments using (a) a 60-yr
moving window and (b) a 44-yr moving window.

values range from 21 to 11 with the latter correspond- observed SON field (Fig. 6a) shows that Uganda and
ing to a perfect score. According to Eq. (3), both random the western to central Kenya highlands experienced wet-
and constant forecasts receive the same zero score. ter than normal conditions while most of Tanzania and
Only results of 21 of the 31 grids that fall within the northern to northwestern Kenya experienced dry con-
three East African countries (Fig. 1) are retained for ditions. Similar spatial patterns are also found in the
discussion (Table 2). To ensure credibility of the cali- predicted fields of CCA-NMS with some minor differ-
brated CCA, the same 24 weights optimized by NMS ences (Fig. 6b).
at the 194486 calibration stage were applied to CCA
at the 198797 validation stage. Using these weights
derived by NMS at the calibration stage predominantly b. CCA model diagnostics
improves the predictions at both calibration and vali- Canonical correlation maps between precipitation and
dation stages (Table 2). In particular, zone 5, which SST 1 SLP fields provide useful diagnostic outputs. We
comprises northeastern Tanzania and south-central Ken- subjected the 10 driest SON rain seasons (bottom 10%
ya (grids 11, 12, 15, and 19 in Fig. 1) shows higher HK of the 190097 dataset) and the corresponding SST and
scores, r, and lower rmse. For a model to have useful SLP fields of the previous season (JJA) to a CCA anal-
predictive skill it should have positive HK scores and ysis to explore their (linear) relationships during dry
the rmse should generally be of about one standard de- conditions. The composite dataset was based on the as-
viation. Zones 3 and 4 perform generally well with pos- sumption that low SON rainfall and the associated SLP
itive HK scores. For the most part zone 6 does not SST fields could be considered as a sequence of discrete
perform well at the validation stage, as some r are less episodes separated by periods whose variations were
than or equal to zero. It seems that CCA driven by of minor interest.
predictor fields not combined with optimized weights The canonical correlations for the first three modes
has little prognostic value in East African rainfall. (j1 to j 3 ) were all greater than 0.8, which means all
Figure 5 shows the correlation maps for the validation three modes were important. However we only analyzed
stage of SON and MAM. The MAM season seems to the j 3 canonical correlation maps of the 10 driest SON
be better predicted than SON in the western parts of season (figure not shown). The j 3 canonical mode hmap
East Africa and to a lesser extent in eastern Kenya. The (predictand) shows negative correlation for most of the
correlation for SON is more than 0.25 for most parts of western parts of East Africa. During this season, the
East Africa except for Uganda and southern Tanzania. northeasterly trade winds flow into East Africa generally
It would seem that CCA-NMS could neither predict through two tracks (Findlatter 1971). One is a dry con-
MAM nor SON rainfall for southeastern Tanzania. The tinental track from Arabia and the other is a humid track
over the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Inspection of
the JJA SST gmap (predictor) reveals that there is a
TABLE 1. An example of a square contingency table prepared for
the grid 15 SON prediction experiment at the calibration stage. narrow coastal band starting from Madagascar reaching
the northeastern coast of Africa and extending all the
Predicted categories way to the west coast of India, which is negatively cor-
Observed Near- related to the precipitation. A buildup of cold SSTs dur-
categories Dry normal Wet Total ing JJA in this ocean sector probably reduces the amount
Dry 8 4 2 14 of moisture advected by the north easterlies giving rise
Near-normal 2 7 5 14 to anomalously low SON rainfall. The JJA SLP gmap
Wet 4 3 8 15 shows a buildup of the SLP in the south-southwest In-
Total 14 14 15 43
dian Ocean that likely reduces the possibility of a low

TABLE 2. A summary of the skill measures obtained from the model runs using a 44-yr moving window. The unweighted results refer
to runs where no weight obtained from the NMS algorithm was applied to the predictor fields. In all cases a combined SSTSLP predictor
field was used.

Weights optimized by Simplex

Calibration Validation
(194486) (198797)
Zone no. Rmse r HK Rmse r HK
1 25 1.12 0.07 20.08 1.27 0.13 20.24
26 1.08 0.03 20.05 1.20 0.16 0.31
2 18 1.30 0.22 0.13 0.82 0.25 0.04
21 1.07 0.12 0.09 1.22 0.21 20.10
22 1.26 0.20 20.05 0.95 0.20 20.38
3 23 1.21 0.20 0.06 1.23 0.34 0.31
24 1.35 0.20 0.16 0.84 0.44 0.31
27 1.13 0.21 0.16 1.16 0.24 0.18
28 1.16 0.18 20.08 0.93 0.42 0.18
4 16 1.17 0.36 0.13 1.29 0.13 0.04
20 1.28 0.26 0.20 1.14 0.09 0.04
5 11 1.26 0.31 0.30 0.89 0.33 0.31
12 1.17 0.17 0.30 0.87 0.03 0.45
15 1.17 0.33 0.09 1.08 0.28 0.31
19 1.22 0.37 0.13 0.91 0.47 0.31
6 6 1.02 0.47 0.30 0.63 0.45 20.10
7 1.09 0.39 0.13 0.88 0.07 20.04
8 1.06 0.42 0.20 1.28 20.04 0.18
9 1.25 0.12 0.06 0.74 0.22 0.18
10 1.22 0.21 20.10 0.73 20.01 0.04
14 1.27 0.05 0.02 0.83 0.44 0.04

SON rainfall for parts of eastern Tanzania and south- strength and moisture content of the Congo air mass
eastern Kenya. It has been suggested that a strong Congo that converges into East Africa, while a high DJF SLP
air mass flowing into the region increases instabilities pressure zone in this ocean sector indicates strong south-
of the convergence zone thus increasing the likelihood easterly monsoons, which diminishes the Congo air
of long rains in Kenya and Uganda (Okoola 1999). Low mass converging into East Africa. Those years with
SSTs in the Gulf of Guinea could probably affect the weak westerly incursions and subsequent strong flows

FIG. 5. The correlation ( r ) between the 198797 (validation) CCA predicted and observed (a) SON and (b) MAM
standardized precipitation for East Africa. Here r values that are statistically significant (i.e., r 0.5 for sample size
5 11 and one-sided t test at a 5 0.05) are the MAM precipitation in Uganda and the SON precipitation in southern
Kenya and northern Tanzania.

TABLE 2. (Continued)

Unoptimized weights
Calibration Validation
(194486) (198797)
Rmse r HK Rmse r HK
1.2 20.10 20.08 1.37 20.31 20.10
1.2 20.26 20.19 1.17 0.17 0.18
1.4 0.09 0.13 0.84 20.11 0.31
1.1 0.00 0.02 1.31 20.16 20.24
1.3 0.14 0.06 0.99 20.09 0.31
1.2 0.12 0.02 1.61 20.23 20.10
1.4 0.06 0.09 1.32 20.23 0.04
1.1 0.23 0.09 1.44 20.25 20.38
1.1 0.23 0.13 1.02 0.21 0.18
1.3 0.17 0.13 1.31 0.09 0.04
1.4 0.01 0.13 1.24 20.09 20.10
1.3 0.14 0.37 0.97 0.00 20.10
1.2 0.23 0.16 0.72 0.28 20.10
1.2 0.17 0.16 1.22 0.03 20.10
1.3 0.27 0.13 1.09 20.07 0.04
1.2 0.13 0.06 0.80 20.10 20.10
1.2 0.12 0.20 0.71 0.40 0.07
1.1 0.19 0.20 0.97 0.49 0.04
1.2 0.15 0.16 0.65 20.11 0.04
1.3 0.07 20.04 0.65 20.08 20.24
1.2 0.14 0.16 0.59 0.25 20.10

of the southeasterly into the interior of East Africa have capitalizing on the influence of low-frequency vari-
been known to be particularly dry during MAM (Tre- ability of SST and SLP of the Atlantic and Indian
wartha 1981). Our observation agrees with their find- Oceans. By developing essential relationships between
ings. the current boundary condition (SST and SLP) and the
We believe that our combined CCA-NMS system precipitation at the next season from sufficient past cli-
likely predicts droughts with acceptable accuracy at the mate records, we could achieve reasonable predictions
seasonal lead time for some parts of East Africa by of the average conditions of the latter. However, such

FIG. 6. Maps showing the (a) observed and (b) predicted SON standardized seasonal rainfall for 1988
(validation stage).

predictions are prone to errors because our climate is Unit of the University of East Anglia. The 58 3 58 SLP
subjected to the influence of many variables. Apparently grid data was obtained from the global mean sea level
CCA-NMS could predict up to 30%40% of the pre- pressure dataset (GMSLP2.1) of the Met Office.
cipitation variability at the 3-month lead time in East
Barnett, T. P., and R. Preisendorfer, 1987: Origins and levels of month-
6. Summary and conclusions ly and seasonal forecast skill for United States surface air tem-
peratures determined by canonical correlation analysis. Mon.
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was driven by the simplex algorithm of Nelder and Basalirwa, C. P. K., 1995: Delineation of Uganda into climatological
rainfall zones using the method of principal component analysis.
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the 3-month lead time using SLP and SST anomaly Mean Sea Level Pressure Data Set GMSLP2. Hadley Centre
fields of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans combined to- Climate Research Tech. Note CRTN 79.
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were optimized in a systematic manner. Among the six between the frequency of rain and various meteorological pa-
rainfall zones delineated in EA, northeastern Tanzania rameters. Meteor. Inst., 81, 215.
and south-central Kenya (zone 5) had the best SON Hulme, M., 1994: Validation of large-scale precipitation fields in
general circulation models. Global Precipitations and Climate
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predicted in the western parts of EA. By applying CCA Springer-Verlag, 466 pp.
to a composite set of the 10 driest SON and MAM Hwang, S.-O., E. J.-K. Schem, G. A. Barnston, and W.-T. Kwon,
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by the NSERC of Canada. The first author was also Cambridge University Press, 735 pp.
supported by the Commonwealth scholarship of CIDA, Shabbar, A., and G. A. Barnston, 1996: Skill of seasonal climate
and graduate assistantship of the University of Alberta. forecasts in Canada using canonical correlation analysis. Mon.
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Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk, anomaly. NASA Tech. Memo. NASA/TM-2001-209989, 53 pp.
United Kingdom. The global 58 3 58 SST grid data for Trewartha, G. T., 1981: The Earths Problem Climates. 2d ed. The
18562000 was obtained from the Climatic Research University of Wisconsin Press, 372 pp.