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Testing the Clausius–Clapeyron constraint on changes in extreme precipitation under CO2 warming

Abstract

Increases in extreme precipitation greater than in the mean under increased greenhouse gases have been reported in many climate models both on global and regional scales. It has been proposed in a previous study that whereas global-mean precipitation change is primarily constrained by the global energy budget, the heaviest events can be expected when effectively all the moisture in a volume of air is precipitated out, suggesting the intensity of these events increases with availability of moisture, and significantly faster than the global mean. Thus under conditions of constant relative humidity one might expect the Clausius–Clapeyron relation to give a constraint on changes in the uppermost quantiles of precipitation distributions. This study examines if the phenomenon manifests on regional and seasonal scales also. Zonal analysis of daily precipitation in the HadCM3 model under a transient CO2 forcing scenario shows increased extreme precipitation in the tropics accompanied by increased drying at lower percentiles. At mid- to high-latitudes there is increased precipitation over all percentiles. The greatest agreement with Clausius–Clapeyron predicted change occurs at mid-latitudes. This pattern is consistent with other climate model projections, and suggests that regions in which the nature of the ambient flows change little give the greatest agreement with Clausius–Clapeyron prediction. This is borne out by repeating the analyses at gridbox level and over season. Furthermore, it is found that Clausius–Clapeyron predicted change in extreme precipitation is a better predictor than directly using the change in mean precipitation, particularly between 60°N and 60°S. This could explain why extreme precipitation changes may be more detectable then mean changes.

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Acknowledgments

The authors especially wish to thank Jonathan Gregory for provision of data and assistance with analysis. We also thank him, along with William Ingram, for insightful discussion. Furthermore, we are grateful to the reviewers for helpful suggestions and Steve Jewson and Robert Muir-Wood for advice on interpretation of results. P.P. was supported by a CASE Award studentship from the UK Natural Environment Research Council with Risk Management Solutions Ltd. M.R.A. received support from the US NOAA/DoE International Detection and Attribution Group. D.A.S. was supported by the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs and a Wellcome Trust Showcase Award.

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Pall, P., Allen, M.R. & Stone, D.A. Testing the Clausius–Clapeyron constraint on changes in extreme precipitation under CO2 warming. Clim Dyn 28, 351–363 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-006-0180-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-006-0180-2

Keywords

  • Extreme Precipitation
  • Precipitation Change
  • Saturation Vapour Pressure
  • Constant Relative Humidity
  • Lower Percentile