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Lack of uniform trends but increasing spatial variability in observed Indian rainfall extremes


Recent studies disagree on how rainfall extremes over India have changed in space and time over the past half century1,2,3,4, as well as on whether the changes observed are due to global warming5,6 or regional urbanization7. Although a uniform and consistent decrease in moderate rainfall has been reported1,3, a lack of agreement about trends in heavy rainfall may be due in part to differences in the characterization and spatial averaging of extremes. Here we use extreme value theory8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15 to examine trends in Indian rainfall over the past half century in the context of long-term, low-frequency variability. We show that when generalized extreme value theory8,16,17,18 is applied to annual maximum rainfall over India, no statistically significant spatially uniform trends are observed, in agreement with previous studies using different approaches2,3,4. Furthermore, our space–time regression analysis of the return levels points to increasing spatial variability of rainfall extremes over India. Our findings highlight the need for systematic examination of global versus regional drivers of trends in Indian rainfall extremes, and may help to inform flood hazard preparedness and water resource management in the region.

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Figure 1: Spatiotemporal trends and variability in all-India monsoon rainfall (AIMR) with 30-year overlapping time windows.
Figure 2: Return periods and volatility of rainfall extremes in India and their 30-year moving trends.
Figure 3: Trends in spatial variance of rainfall extremes calculated with 30-year overlapping time windows.
Figure 4: Multi-metric examination of average and severe rainfall trends over Central India as defined in ref. 1 and over ‘all-India’.


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The research was mostly completed when all authors were at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and financially supported by the ORNL (managed by UT-Battelle for US Department of Energy) Laboratory Directed Research and Development programme, National Science Foundation award 1029166, and BOYCAST fellowship of DST-India. E. Kodra and J. Tolen provided helpful comments.

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S.G. developed codes and performed the analysis, apart from EVT. D.D. performed the EVT analysis and S-C.K. and D.D. developed the EVT codes. S.G. and A.R.G. designed the problem and interpreted the analysis results. A.R.G. wrote the paper, primarily with inputs from S.G., as well as with comments from D.D. and S-C.K.

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Correspondence to Auroop R. Ganguly.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ghosh, S., Das, D., Kao, SC. et al. Lack of uniform trends but increasing spatial variability in observed Indian rainfall extremes. Nature Clim Change 2, 86–91 (2012).

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