Natural Hazards

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 283–303 | Cite as

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

  • A. M. Fowler
  • K. J. Hennessy
Article

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.

Key words

Climate change impacts heavy precipitation GCMs 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Browning, K. A.: 1990, Rain, rainclouds and climate,Q. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc. 116, 1025–1052.Google Scholar
  2. Bureau of Meteorology: 1984,The Estimation of Probable Maximum Precipitation in Australia for Short Durations and Small Areas, Bulletin 51, Australian Bureau of Meteorology.Google Scholar
  3. Cubasch, U. and Cess, R. D.: 1990, Processes and modelling, inClimate Change: the IPCC Scientific Assessment, report prepared for the WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by Working Group I, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  4. Gordon, H., Whetton, P. H., Pittock, A. B., Fowler, A. M., and Haylock, M. R.: 1992, Simulated changes in daily rainfall intensity due to the enhanced greenhouse effect: implications for extreme rainfall events,Climate Dynamics 8, 83–102.Google Scholar
  5. Hansen, J., Rind, D., DelGenio, A., Lacis, A., Lebedeff, S., Prather, M., and Ruedy, R.: 1988, Regional greenhouse climate effects, inCoping with Climate Change, Proc. 2nd North-American Conf. Preparing for Climate Change, Dec. 6–8, 1988, Climate Institute, Washington DC.Google Scholar
  6. Haarsma, R. J., Mitchell, J. F. B., and Senior, C. A.: 1993, Tropical disturbances in a GCM,Climate Dynamics 8, 247–257.Google Scholar
  7. Hay, J. E.: 1971, Precipitable water over Canada: II distribution,Atmosphere 9, 101–111.Google Scholar
  8. Hennessy, K. J., Fowler, A. M., and Whetton, P. H.: 1993, GCM simulated changes in daily rainfall intensity and heavy rainfall events under an enhanced greenhouse effect,Extended abstracts Fourth Int. Conf. Southern Hemisphere Meteorology and Oceanography, Hobart 29 March-2 April 1993.Google Scholar
  9. Hennessy, K. J., Gregory, J. M., and Mitchell, J. F. B.: in preparation, Changes in daily rainfall under enhanced greehouse conditions.Google Scholar
  10. Houghton, J. T., Callander, B. A., and Varney, S. K. (ed.): 1992,Climate change 1992: the supplementary report to the IPCC scientific assessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  11. Houghton, J. T., Jenkins, G. J., and Ephraums, J. J. (eds): 1990,Climate Change: the IPCC scientific assessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  12. Kowalczyk, E. A., Garratt, J. R., and Krummel, P. B.: 1994,Implementation of a soil-canopy scheme into the CSIRO GCM-regional aspects of the model response, CSIRO DAR Tech. Paper No. 32, 62 pp.Google Scholar
  13. Kundzewicz, Z. W., Rosbjerg, D., Simonovic, S. P., and Takeuchi, K. (eds): 1993, Extreme Hydrological Events: Precipitation, Floods and Droughts (Proc. Yokohama Symposium), International Association of Hydrological Sciences Publication No. 213, 459 pp.Google Scholar
  14. McGregor, J. L., Gordon, H. B., Watterson, I. G., and Dix, M. R.: 1993,The CSIRO 9-level atmospheric general circulation model, CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research Technical Paper No. 26.Google Scholar
  15. Mearns, L. O., Schneider, S. H., Thompson, S. L., and McDaniel, L. R.: 1990, Analysis of climate variability in general circulation models: comparison with observations and changes in variability in 2 × CO2,J. Geophys. Res. 95(D12), 20469–20490.Google Scholar
  16. Mitchell, J. F. B. and Ingram, W. J.: 1992, Carbon dioxide and climate: mechanisms of changes in clund,J. Clim. 5, 5–21.Google Scholar
  17. Mitchell, J. F. B., Manabe, S., Meleshko, V., and Tokioka, T.: 1990, Equilibrium climate change — and its implications for the future, inClimate change: the IPCC scientific assessment, report prepared for the WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by Working Group I, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  18. Noda, A. and Tokioka, T.: 1989, The effect of doubling the CO2 concentration on convective and non-convective precipitation in a general circulation model coupled with a simple mixed layer ocean model,J. Meteorol. Soc. Japan 67, 1057–1069.Google Scholar
  19. Oke, T. R.: 1987,Boundary Layer Climates, Routledge, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Pitman, A. J., Henderson-Sellers, A., and Yang, Z.-L.: 1990, Sensitivity of regional climates to localized precipitation in global models,Nature 346, 734–737.Google Scholar
  21. Pittock, A. B.: 1993, A climate change perspective on grasslands,Proc. XVII International Grassland Congress 1993, Auckland, 1053–1060.Google Scholar
  22. Pittock, A. B., Fowler, A. M., and Whetton, P. H.: 1991, Probable changes in rainfall regimes due to the enhanced greenhouse effect,International Hydrology and Water Resources Symp. Preprints, Perth, 2–4 October, 1991.Google Scholar
  23. Ramanathan, V., Cicerone, R. J., Singh, H. B., and Kiehl, J. T.: 1985, Trace gas trends and their potential role in climate change,J. Geophys. Res. 90, 5547–5566.Google Scholar
  24. Rasch, P. J. and Williamson, D. L.: 1990, Computational aspects of moisture transport in global models of the atmosphere,Q. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc. 116, 1071–1090.Google Scholar
  25. Reitan, C. H.: 1960, Distribution of precipitable water over the continental United States,Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc. 41, 79–87.Google Scholar
  26. Robinson, D. K.: 1987, Selection of design floods, in D. H. Pilgrim (ed),Australian Rainfall and Runoff: A Guide to Flood Estimation, Vol.1, The Institute of Engineers, Australia, Barton, ACT, Australia.Google Scholar
  27. Ropelewski, C. F. and Halpert, M. S.: 1987, Global and regional scale precipitation patterns associated with the El Nino/Southern Oscillation,Mon. Weather Rev. 115, 1606–1626.Google Scholar
  28. Ropelewski, C. F. and Halpert, M. S.: 1989, Precipitation patterns associated with the high index phase of the Southern Oscillation,J. Climate 2, 268–284.Google Scholar
  29. Schlesinger, M. E., and Mitchell, J. F. B.: 1987, Climate model simulations of the equilibrium climate response to increased carbon dioxide,Rev. Geophys. 25, 760–798.Google Scholar
  30. Smith, D. I.: 1993, Greenhouse climatic change and flood damages, the implications,Climatic Change 25, 319–333.Google Scholar
  31. Stephens, G. L.: 1990, On the relationship between water vapour over the oceans and sea surface temperature,J. Climate 3, 634–645.Google Scholar
  32. Tegart, W. J. McG., Sheldon, G. W., and Griffiths, D. C. (eds): 1990,Climate Change: the IPCC impacts assessment, Australian Government Publication Service, Canberra.Google Scholar
  33. Wigley, T. M. L. and Raper, S. C. B.: 1992, Implications for climate and sea level of revised IPCC emissions scenarios,Nature 357, 293–300.Google Scholar
  34. Windelband, M., Sausen, R., and Cubasch, U.: 1993, Changes in convective height due to global warming, in G. J. Boer (ed),Research Activities in Atmospheric and Oceanic Modelling, Report No. 18, WMO: 9.10–9.12.Google Scholar
  35. Whetton, P. H., Fowler, A. M., Haylock, M. R., and Pittock, A. B.: 1993, Implications of climate change due to the enhanced greenhouse-effect on floods and droughts in Australia,Climatic Change 25, 289–317.Google Scholar
  36. WMO: 1986,Manual for estimation of probable maximum precipitation. 2nd edn, Operational Hydrology Report No. 1 (WMO, No; 332), World Meteorological Organization, Geneva.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. M. Fowler
    • 1
  • K. J. Hennessy
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.CSIRO Division of Atmospheric ResearchMordiallocAustralia

Personalised recommendations