Letter | Published:

Increase in the range between wet and dry season precipitation

Nature Geoscience volume 6, pages 263267 (2013) | Download Citation


Global temperatures have risen over the past few decades. The water vapour content of the atmosphere has increased as a result, strengthening the global hydrological cycle1,2,3,4. This, in turn, has led to wet regions getting wetter, and dry regions drier1,2,3,4,5,6. Climate model simulations suggest that a similar intensification of existing patterns may also apply to the seasonal cycle of rainfall7. Here, we analyse regional and global trends in seasonal precipitation extremes over the past three decades, using a number of global and land-alone observational data sets. We show that globally the annual range of precipitation has increased, largely because wet seasons have become wetter. Although the magnitude of the shift is uncertain, largely owing to limitations inherent in the data sets used, the sign of the tendency is robust. On a regional scale, the tendency for wet seasons to get wetter occurs over climatologically rainier regions. Similarly, the tendency for dry season to get drier is seen in drier regions. Even if the total amount of annual rainfall does not change significantly, the enhancement in the seasonal precipitation cycle could have marked consequences for the frequency of droughts and floods.

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We acknowledge the modelling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model data set (listed in Supplementary Table S1). Support of this data set is provided by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy. We also acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table S2 of this paper) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. The GPCP combined precipitation data were developed and computed by the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center’s Mesoscale Atmospheric Processes Laboratory as a contribution to the GEWEX Global Precipitation Climatology Project. SSM/I data are produced by Remote Sensing Systems and sponsored by the NASA Earth Science MEaSUREs DISCOVER Project. Data are available at www.remss.com. This work was supported by the National Science Council of Taiwan.

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  1. Research Center for Environmental Changes, Academia Sinica, Taipei 11529, Taiwan

    • Chia Chou
    • , Chia-Hui Chung
    • , Yi-Chun Liao
    •  & Chia-Jung Lee
  2. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei 10617, Taiwan

    • Chia Chou
  3. Department of Geography and Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-4740, USA

    • John C. H. Chiang
  4. Civil Aeronautics Administration, Ministry of Transportation and Communications, Taipei 10548, Taiwan

    • Chia-Wei Lan


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C.C. conceived the project, designed the study and wrote the manuscript. J.C.H.C. advised on interpretation and assisted in the writing of the manuscript. C-W.L., C-H.C, Y-C.L. and C-J.L. performed the analysis of the observations and the model simulations.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chia Chou.

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