What can we say about changes in the hydrologic cycle on 50-year timescales when we cannot predict rainfall next week? Eventually, perhaps, a great deal: the overall climate response to increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases may prove much simpler and more predictable than the chaos of short-term weather. Quantifying the diversity of possible responses is essential for any objective, probability-based climate forecast, and this task will require a new generation of climate modelling experiments, systematically exploring the range of model behaviour that is consistent with observations. It will be substantially harder to quantify the range of possible changes in the hydrologic cycle than in global-mean temperature, both because the observations are less complete and because the physical constraints are weaker.
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We are grateful to G. Hegerl and K. Trenberth for thorough reviews; to J. Gregory, C. Forest, J. Mitchell, L. Smith and I. Tracey for helpful suggestions; and to B. Booth, B. Grey and H. Lambert for help with the figures. M. Webster, M. Hulme, P. Stott and J. Gregory kindly provided unpublished data used in Figs 1, 3 and 4, and we thank C. Covey and the CMIP-2 data team for data in Figs 2, 5 and 6. M.R.A. is supported by the UK NERC and US NOAA & DoE, W.J.I. by the UK Government Meteorological Research Programme and D.A.S. by the NERC COAPEC Programme. The http://www.climateprediction.net programme is funded by the UK NERC, EPSRC and DTI 'e-Science' programmes.
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Allen, M., Ingram, W. Constraints on future changes in climate and the hydrologic cycle. Nature 419, 228–232 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01092
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