Precipitation sensitivity to warming estimated from long island records

Debbie Polson, Gabriele Hegerl, S. Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Some of the most damaging impacts of climate change are a consequence of changes to the global water cycle. Atmospheric warming causes the water cycle to intensify, increasing both atmospheric water vapour concentrations and global precipitation and enhancing existing patterns of precipitation minus evaporation (P-E). This relationship between temperature and precipitation
therefore makes understanding how precipitation has changed with global temperatures in the past crucial for projecting changes with future warming. In-situ observations cannot readily estimate global precipitation sensitivity to temperature (dP/dT), as land precipitation changes are affected by
water limitation. Satellite observations of precipitation over ocean are only available after 1979, but studies based on them suggest a precipitation sensitivity over wet tropical (30N-30S) oceans that exceeds the Clausius-Clapeyron value. Here, we determine for the first time precipitation sensitivity
using longer (1930-2005), island-based in-situ observations to estimate dP/dT over islands. The records show a robust pattern of increasing precipitation in the tropics and decreasing precipitation in the subtropics, as predicted from physical arguments, and heavy precipitation shows a stronger sensitivity than mean precipitation over many islands. The pattern and magnitude of island-based
dP/dT agree with climate models if masked to island locations, supporting model predictions of future changes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2016


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