, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 283-303

Potential impacts of global warming on the frequency and magnitude of heavy precipitation

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Abstract

It is now widely recognised that the most significant impacts of global warming are likely to be experienced through changes in the frequency of extreme events, including flooding. This paper reviews physical and empirical arguments which suggest that global warming may result in a more intense hydrological cycle, with an associated increase in the frequency and/or magnitude of heavy precipitation. Results derived from enhanced-greenhouse experiments using global climate models (GCMs) are shown to be consistent with these physical and empirical arguments. Detailed analysis of output from three GCMs indicates the possibility of substantial increases in the frequency and magnitude of extreme daily precipitation, with amplification of the effect as the return period increases. Moreover, return period analyses for locations in Australia, Europe, India, China and the USA indicate that the results are global in scope. Subsequent discussion of the limitations of GCMs for this sort of analysis highlights the need for caution when interpreting the precipitation results presented here. However, the consistency between physically-based expectations, empirical observations, and GCM results is considered sufficient for the GCM results to be taken seriously, at least in a qualitative sense, especially considering that the alternative seems to be reliance by planners on the fundamentally flawed concept of a stationary climate.