Inverse relationship between present-day tropical precipitation and its sensitivity to greenhouse warming

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Future changes in rainfall have serious impacts on human adaptation to climate change, but quantification of these changes is subject to large uncertainties in climate model projections. To narrow these uncertainties, significant efforts have been made to understand the intermodel differences in future rainfall changes. Here, we show a strong inverse relationship between present-day precipitation and its future change to possibly calibrate future precipitation change by removing the present-day bias in climate models. The results of the models with less tropical (40° S–40° N) present-day precipitation are closely linked to the dryness over the equatorial central-eastern Pacific, and project weaker regional precipitation increase due to the anthropogenic greenhouse forcing1,2,3,4,5,6 with stronger zonal Walker circulation. This induces Indo-western Pacific warming through Bjerknes feedback, which reduces relative humidity by the enhanced atmospheric boundary-layer mixing in the future projection. This increases the air–sea humidity difference to enhance tropical evaporation and the resultant precipitation. Our estimation of the sensitivity of the tropical precipitation per 1 K warming, after removing a common bias in the present-day simulation, is about 50% greater than the original future multi-model projection.

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Y.-G.H. was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education (NRF-2016R1A6A1A03012647). J.-Y.C. was supported by the Korean Meteorological Administration Research and Development Program under grant KMIPA2015–6170. J.-S.K. is supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2017R1A2B3011511).

Author information


  1. Department of Oceanography, Chonnam National University, Gwangju, South Korea

    • Yoo-Geun Ham
    •  & Jun-Young Choi
  2. Division of Earth Science and Engineering, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Pohang, South Korea

    • Jong-Seong Kug
  3. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

    • Fei-Fei Jin
  4. Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan

    • Masahiro Watanabe


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Y.-G.H. and J.-S.K. designed the research, conducted analyses and wrote the majority of the manuscript. M.W. and F.-F.J. conducted the analysis and report-writing tasks. J.-Y.C. performed the model experiments. All of the authors discussed the study results and reviewed the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jong-Seong Kug.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Figures 1–15.