Letter | Published:

More extreme precipitation in the world’s dry and wet regions

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 508513 (2016) | Download Citation

  • An Addendum to this article was published on 01 February 2017

This article has been updated

Abstract

Intensification of the hydrological cycle is expected to accompany a warming climate1,2. It has been suggested that changes in the spatial distribution of precipitation will amplify differences between dry and wet regions3,4, but this has been disputed for changes over land5,6,7,8. Furthermore, precipitation changes may differ not only between regions but also between different aspects of precipitation, such as totals and extremes. Here we investigate changes in these two aspects in the world’s dry and wet regions using observations and global climate models. Despite uncertainties in total precipitation changes, extreme daily precipitation averaged over both dry and wet regimes shows robust increases in both observations and climate models over the past six decades. Climate projections for the rest of the century show continued intensification of daily precipitation extremes. Increases in total and extreme precipitation in dry regions are linearly related to the model-specific global temperature change, so that the spread in projected global warming partly explains the spread in precipitation intensification in these regions by the late twenty-first century. This intensification has implications for the risk of flooding as the climate warms, particularly for the world’s dry regions.

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Change history

  • 01 February 2017

    This Letter has an addendum associated with it, for details see pdf.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported through the Australian Research Council grants CE110001028 and DE150100456. We thank the climate modelling groups contributing to CMIP5 for producing and making available their model output.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Climate Change Research Centre and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia

    • Markus G. Donat
    • , Andrew L. Lowry
    • , Lisa V. Alexander
    •  & Nicola Maher
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Paul A. O’Gorman

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Contributions

M.G.D. conceived the study; A.L.L., M.G.D. and N.M. performed the analyses. All authors discussed the results and contributed to writing the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Markus G. Donat.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2941

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