Letter

Keeping global warming within 1.5 °C constrains emergence of aridification

Received:
Accepted:
Published online:

Abstract

Aridity—the ratio of atmospheric water supply (precipitation; P) to demand (potential evapotranspiration; PET)—is projected to decrease (that is, areas will become drier) as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change, exacerbating land degradation and desertification1,2,3,4,5,6. However, the timing of significant aridification relative to natural variability—defined here as the time of emergence for aridification (ToEA)—is unknown, despite its importance in designing and implementing mitigation policies7,8,9,10. Here we estimate ToEA from projections of 27 global climate models (GCMs) under representative concentration pathways (RCPs) RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, and in doing so, identify where emergence occurs before global mean warming reaches 1.5 °C and 2 °C above the pre-industrial level. On the basis of the ensemble median ToEA for each grid cell, aridification emerges over 32% (RCP4.5) and 24% (RCP8.5) of the total land surface before the ensemble median of global mean temperature change reaches 2 °C in each scenario. Moreover, ToEA is avoided in about two-thirds of the above regions if the maximum global warming level is limited to 1.5 °C. Early action for accomplishing the 1.5 °C temperature goal can therefore markedly reduce the likelihood that large regions will face substantial aridification and related impacts.

  • Subscribe to Nature Climate Change for full access:

    $59

    Subscribe

Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.

References

  1. 1.

    Collins, M. et al. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 2013).

  2. 2.

    Huang, J., Yu, H., Guan, X., Wang, G. & Guo, R. Accelerated dryland expansion underclimate change. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 166–171 (2016).

  3. 3.

    Feng, S. & Fu, Q. Expansion of global drylands under a warming climate. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 13, 10081–10094 (2013).

  4. 4.

    Sherwood, S. & Fu, Q. A drier future? Science 343, 737–739 (2014).

  5. 5.

    Lin, L., Gettelman, A., Fu, Q. & Xu, Y. Simulated differences in 21st century aridity due to different scenarios of greenhouse gases and aerosols. Climatic Change https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1615-3 (2016).

  6. 6.

    Fu, Q., Lin, L., Huang, J., Feng, S. & Gettelman, A. Changes in terrestrial aridity for the period 850–2080 from the Community Earth System Model. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 121, 2857–2873 (2016).

  7. 7.

    Mahlstein, I., Knutti, R., Solomon, S. & Portmann, R. W. Early onset of significant local warming in low latitude countries. Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 034009 (2011).

  8. 8.

    Hawkins, E. & Sutton, R. The potential to narrow uncertainty in projections of regional precipitation change. Clim. Dyn. 37, 407–418 (2011).

  9. 9.

    Hawkins, E. & Sutton, R. Time of emergence of climate signals. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L01702 (2012).

  10. 10.

    King, A. D. et al. The timing of anthropogenic emergence in simulated climate extremes. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 094015 (2015).

  11. 11.

    Middleton, N. et al. World Atlas of Desertification. 2nd edn (Arnold, London, 1997).

  12. 12.

    Mosley, L. M. Drought impacts on the water quality of freshwater systems; review and integration. Earth Sci. Rev. 140, 203–214 (2015).

  13. 13.

    Westerling, A. L., Hidalgo, H. G., Cayan, D. R. & Swetnam, T. W. Warming and earlier spring increase western US forest wildfire activity. Science 313, 940–943 (2006).

  14. 14.

    Novick, K. A. et al. The increasing importance of atmospheric demand for ecosystem water and carbon fluxes. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 1023–1027 (2016).

  15. 15.

    Webber, H. et al. Uncertainty in future irrigation water demand and risk of crop failure for maize in Europe. Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 074007 (2016).

  16. 16.

    Huang, J., Yu, H., Dai, A., Wei, Y. & Kang, L. Drylands face potential threat under 2 °C global warming target. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 417–422 (2017).

  17. 17.

    Sedláček, J. & Knutti, R. Half of the world’s population experience robust changes in the water cycle for a 2 °C warmer world. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 044008 (2014).

  18. 18.

    Dai, A. Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 52–58 (2012).

  19. 19.

    Gonzalez, P., Neilson, R. P., Lenihan, J. M. & Drapek, R. J. Global patterns in the vulnerability of ecosystems to vegetation shifts due to climate change. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 19, 755–768 (2010).

  20. 20.

    D’Odorico, P., Bhattachan, A., Davis, K. F., Ravi, S. & Runyan, C. W. Global desertification: drivers and feedbacks. Adv. Water Resour. 51, 326–344 (2013).

  21. 21.

    Vicente-Serrano, S. M. et al. Evidence of increasing drought severity caused by temperature rise in southern Europe. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 044001 (2014).

  22. 22.

    Joshi, M., Hawkins, E., Sutton, R., Lowe, J. & Frame, D. Projections of when temperature change will exceed 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Nat. Clim. Change 1, 407–412 (2011).

  23. 23.

    Park, C.-E., Jeong, S.-J., Ho, C.-H. & Kim, J. Regional variations in potential plant habitat changes in response to multiple global warming scenarios. J. Clim. 28, 2884–2899 (2015).

  24. 24.

    Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

  25. 25.

    Barbeta, A. et al. The combined effects of a long-term experimental drought and an extreme drought on the use of plant-water sources in a Mediterranean forest. Glob. Change Biol. 21, 1213–1225 (2015).

  26. 26.

    Schleussner, C.-F. et al. Science and policy characteristics of the Paris Agreement temperature goal. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 827–835 (2016).

  27. 27.

    Hawkins, E. et al. Estimating changes in global temperature since the preindustrial period. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 98, 1841–1856 (2017).

  28. 28.

    Caesar, J. et al. Response of the HadGEM2 earth system model to future greenhouse gas emissions pathways to the year 2300. J. Clim. 26, 3275–3284 (2013).

  29. 29.

    Milly, P. C. D. & Dunne, K. A. Potential evapotranspiration and continental drying. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 946–949 (2016).

  30. 30.

    Rogelj, J. et al. Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C. Nature 534, 631–639 (2016).

  31. 31.

    Chen, M., Xie, P., Janowiak, J. E. & Arkin, P. A. Global land precipitation: a 50-yr monthly analysis based on gauge observations. J. Hydrometeorol. 3, 249–266 (2002).

  32. 32.

    Fan, Y. & van den Dool, H. A global monthly land surface air temperature analysis for 1948–present. J. Geophys. Res. 113, D01103 (2008).

  33. 33.

    Allen, R. G. Pereira, L. S., Raes, D. & Smith, M. Crop Evapotranspiration–Guidelines for Computing Crop Water Requirements. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 56 (FAO, 1998).

  34. 34.

    Mastrandrea, M. D. et al. Guidance Note for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Consistent Treatment of Uncertainties (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2010).

  35. 35.

    Murakami, D. & Yamagata, Y. Estimation of gridded population and GDP scenarios with spatially explicit statistical downscaling. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/1610.09041 (2016).

Download references

Acknowledgements

S.-J.J. and C.-E.P. were supported by the startup funding of the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTECH). J.L. was supported by the National Science Fund for Distinguished Youth Scholars (41625001). J.L. was supported by part of the research funding provided by the Southern University of Science and Technology (grant no. G01296001). T.O. was supported by the Belmont Forum/JPI-Climate project INTEGRATE (NERC NE/P006809/1). M.J. was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council Grant Robust Spatial Projections (NE/N018397/1). C.-H.H. and H.P. were funded by the Korea Ministry of Environment as part of the ‘Climate Change Correspondence Program’. B.-M.K. was supported by Korea Polar Research Institute Project (PE17130). We acknowledge the World Climate Research Program’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 1 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.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTECH), Shenzhen, China

    • Chang-Eui Park
    • , Su-Jong Jeong
    •  & Junguo Liu
  2. Climatic Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

    • Manoj Joshi
    •  & Timothy J. Osborn
  3. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

    • Chang-Hoi Ho
    •  & Hoonyoung Park
  4. Key Laboratory of Alpine Ecology and Biodiversity, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

    • Shilong Piao
  5. Sino-French Institute for Earth System Science, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China

    • Shilong Piao
  6. Center for Excellence in Tibetan Earth Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

    • Shilong Piao
  7. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

    • Deliang Chen
  8. EAWAG, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland

    • Hong Yang
  9. Faculty of Sciences, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland

    • Hong Yang
  10. Korea Polar Research Institution, Incheon, Korea

    • Baek-Min Kim
  11. Department of Geosciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, 72701, USA

    • Song Feng

Authors

  1. Search for Chang-Eui Park in:

  2. Search for Su-Jong Jeong in:

  3. Search for Manoj Joshi in:

  4. Search for Timothy J. Osborn in:

  5. Search for Chang-Hoi Ho in:

  6. Search for Shilong Piao in:

  7. Search for Deliang Chen in:

  8. Search for Junguo Liu in:

  9. Search for Hong Yang in:

  10. Search for Hoonyoung Park in:

  11. Search for Baek-Min Kim in:

  12. Search for Song Feng in:

Contributions

C.-E.P. and S.-J.J. conceived and designed the study, analysed data and wrote the paper. M.J. and T.J.O. improved the study, provided data and wrote the paper. C.-H.H., S.P., D.C., J.L., H.Y., H.P., B.-M.K. wrote the paper. S.F. provided data and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Su-Jong Jeong.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Model Validation, Supplementary References, Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Figures 1–9