, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 83-102

Simulated changes in daily rainfall intensity due to the enhanced greenhouse effect: implications for extreme rainfall events

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Abstract

In this study we present rainfall results from equilibrium 1 ×− and 2 × CO2 experiments with the CSIRO 4-level general circulation model. The 1 × CO2 results are discussed in relation to observed climate. Discussion of the 2 × CO2 results focuses upon changes in convective and non-convective rainfall as simulated in the model, and the consequences these changes have for simulated daily rainfall intensity and the frequency of heavy rainfall events. In doing this analysis, we recognize the significant shortcomings of GCM simulations of precipitation processes. However, because of the potential significance of any changes in heavy rainfall events as a result of the enhanced greenhouse effect, we believe a first examination of relevant GCM rainfall results is warranted. Generally, the model results show a marked increase in rainfall originating from penetrative convection and, in the mid-latitudes, a decline in largescale (non-convective) rainfall. It is argued that these changes in rainfall type are a consequence of the increased moisture holding capacity of the warmer atmosphere simulated for 2 × CO2 conditions. Related to changes in rainfall type, rainfall intensity (rain per rain day) increases in the model for most regions of the globe. Increases extend even to regions where total rainfall decreases. Indeed, the greater intensity of daily rainfall is a much clearer response of the model to increased greenhouse gases than the changes in total rainfall. We also find a decrease in the number of rainy days in the middle latitudes of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. To further elucidate these results daily rainfall frequency distributions are examined globally and for four selected regions of interest. In all regions the frequency of high rainfall events increases, and the return period of such events decreases markedly. If realistic, the findings have potentially serious practical implications in terms of an increased frequency and severity of floods in most regions. However, we discuss various important sources of uncertainty in the results presented, and indicate the need for rainfall intensity results to be examined in enhanced greenhouse experiments with other GCMs.