Detection and attribution of human influence on regional precipitation


Understanding how human influence on the climate is affecting precipitation around the world is immensely important for defining mitigation policies, and for adaptation planning. Yet despite increasing evidence for the influence of climate change on global patterns of precipitation, and expectations that significant changes in regional precipitation should have already occurred as a result of human influence on climate, compelling evidence of anthropogenic fingerprints on regional precipitation is obscured by observational and modelling uncertainties; and by using current methods, it is likely to remain so for years to come. This is in spite of substantial ongoing improvements in models, new reanalyses and a satellite record that spans over thirty years. If we are to quantify how human-induced climate change is affecting the regional water cycle, we need to consider new ways of identifying the effects of natural and anthropogenic influences on precipitation that take full advantage of our physical expectations.

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Figure 1: Observational uncertainties due to sparse coverage obscure expected fingerprints of change.
Figure 2: Magnitudes of zonal mean land precipitation trends are dependent on observational datasets.
Figure 3: Simulated process-based fingerprint of anthropogenic precipitation change.

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  • 07 June 2016

    In the HTML version of this Perspective originally published, the second affiliation for Peter A. Scott was missing; this has now been corrected.


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This work is supported by Horyuji PAGODA project of the Changing Water Cycle programme of the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) (Grant NE/I006672/1) and by the Joint DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). B.B.S. acknowledges joint support from the UK NERC (Grant NE/I006672/1) and the Met Office Hadley Centre, and a discussion with Pier Luigi Vidale and Anne Verhoef on the atmospheric-land surface processes. E.B. was supported by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science — Climate division core research programme and the following research grants: HyCristal (NE/M020371/1), SatWIN-Scale (NE/M008797/1) and BRAVE (NE/M008983/1).

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B.B.S. developed the content and led the writing; P.A.S and E.B. designed the outline of the article, contributed to discussions, text, and commented on the drafts.

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Correspondence to Beena Balan Sarojini.

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Sarojini, B., Stott, P. & Black, E. Detection and attribution of human influence on regional precipitation. Nature Clim Change 6, 669–675 (2016).

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