Attributing intensification of precipitation extremes to human influence

X. Zhang, H. Wan, F.W. Zwiers, G.C. Hegerl, S.-K. Min

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study provides estimates of the human contribution to the observed widespread intensification of precipitation extremes. We consider the annual maxima of daily (RX1day) and 5 day consecutive (RX5day) precipitation amounts over the Northern Hemisphere land area for 1951-2005 and compare observed changes with expected responses to external forcings as simulated by multiple coupled climate models participating in Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5. The effect of anthropogenic forcings can be detected in extreme precipitation observations, both individually and when simultaneously estimating anthropogenic and naturally forced changes. The effect of natural forcings is not detectable. We estimate that human influence has intensified annual maximum 1 day precipitation in sampled Northern Hemisphere locations by 3.3% [1.1% to 5.8%, >90% confidence interval] on average. This corresponds to an average intensification in RX1day of 5.2% [1.3%, 9.3%] per degree increase in observed global mean surface temperature consistent with the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship. Key Points Extreme precipitation intensification attributable to human influence Observed and simulated changes in extreme precipitation consistent Model projected future changes may be reliable
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5252-5257
Number of pages6
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2013


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