Letter | Published:

Increases in tropical rainfall driven by changes in frequency of organized deep convection

Nature volume 519, pages 451454 (26 March 2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

Increasing global precipitation has been associated with a warming climate resulting from a strengthening of the hydrological cycle1. This increase, however, is not spatially uniform. Observations and models have found that changes in rainfall show patterns characterized as ‘wet-gets-wetter’1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and ‘warmer-gets-wetter’5,8,9. These changes in precipitation are largely located in the tropics and hence are probably associated with convection. However, the underlying physical processes for the observed changes are not entirely clear. Here we show from observations that most of the regional increase in tropical precipitation is associated with changes in the frequency of organized deep convection. By assessing the contributions of various convective regimes to precipitation, we find that the spatial patterns of change in the frequency of organized deep convection are strongly correlated with observed change in rainfall, both positive and negative (correlation of 0.69), and can explain most of the patterns of increase in rainfall. In contrast, changes in less organized forms of deep convection or changes in precipitation within organized deep convection contribute less to changes in precipitation. Our results identify organized deep convection as the link between changes in rainfall and in the dynamics of the tropical atmosphere, thus providing a framework for obtaining a better understanding of changes in rainfall. Given the lack of a distinction between the different degrees of organization of convection in climate models10, our results highlight an area of priority for future climate model development in order to achieve accurate rainfall projections in a warming climate.

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Acknowledgements

. We thank S. Sherwood and B. Stevens for comments on the study. The GPCP combined precipitation data were developed and computed by the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre’s Mesoscale Atmospheric Processes Laboratory as a contribution to the GEWEX Global Precipitation Climatology Project, and provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division (PSD) at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/. The TRMM 3B42 and 3A25 data were provided by the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center’s Mesoscale Atmospheric Processes Laboratory and Precipitation Processing System as a contribution to TRMM, and archived at the NASA Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center. J.T. and C.J. are funded under the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (CE110001028). W.B.R. is supported by NASA grant NNX13AO39G. G.T. acknowledges the support of the NASA Modeling Analysis and Prediction (MAP) programme managed by D. Considine. J.T. acknowledges support from the Monash University Postgraduate Publication Award.

Author information

Author notes

    • Jackson Tan

    Present address: NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia 23337, USA.

Affiliations

  1. ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia

    • Jackson Tan
    •  & Christian Jakob
  2. CREST Institute at the City College of New York, New York, New York 10031, USA

    • William B. Rossow
  3. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • George Tselioudis

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Contributions

J.T. and C.J. designed the study. J.T. conducted the analysis and obtained the results. C.J., W.B.R. and G.T. advised on the approach. J.T., W.B.R. and G.T. checked regime time series for satellite artefacts. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jackson Tan.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14339

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