Climate Dynamics

, Volume 40, Issue 11–12, pp 3009–3022 | Cite as

Interdecadal variability/long-term changes in global precipitation patterns during the past three decades: global warming and/or pacific decadal variability?

  • Guojun GuEmail author
  • Robert F. Adler


This study explores how global precipitation and tropospheric water vapor content vary on the interdecadal/long-term time scale during past three decades (1988–2010 for water vapor), in particular to what extent the spatial structures of their variations relate to changes in surface temperature. EOF analyses of satellite-based products indicate that the first two modes of global precipitation and columnar water vapor content anomalies are in general related to the El Niño-Southern oscillation. The spatial patterns of their third modes resemble the corresponding linear fits/trends estimated at each grid point, which roughly represent the interdecadal/long-term changes happening during the same time period. Global mean sea surface temperature (SST) and land surface temperature have increased during the past three decades. However, the water vapor and precipitation patterns of change do not reflect the pattern of warming, in particular in the tropical Pacific basin. Therefore, other mechanisms in addition to global warming likely exist to account for the spatial structures of global precipitation changes during this time period. An EOF analysis of longer-record (1949–2010) SST anomalies within the Pacific basin (60oN–60oS) indicates the existence of a strong climate regime shift around 1998/1999, which might be associated with the Pacific decadal variability (PDV) as suggested in past studies. Analyses indicate that the observed linear changes/trends in both precipitation and tropospheric water vapor during 1988–2010 seem to result from a combined impact of global mean surface warming and the PDV shift. In particular, in the tropical central-eastern Pacific, a band of increases along the equator in both precipitation and water vapor sandwiched by strong decreases south and north of it are likely caused by the opposite effects from global-mean surface warming and PDV-related, La Niña-like cooling in the tropical central-eastern Pacific. This narrow band of precipitation increase could also be considered an evidence for the influence of global mean surface warming.


Global Precipitation Climatology Project Interannual Time Scale Climate Regime Shift Columnar Water Vapor Oceanic Precipitation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The RSS-SSM/I and RSS-SSMIS columnar water vapor data were downloaded from The ERSST data set (v3b) was downloaded from the NOAA-NCDC website at The NASA-GISS global surface temperature anomaly product was downloaded from its website at This research is supported under the NASA Energy and Water-cycle Study (NEWS) program.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Earth System Science Interdisciplinary CenterUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Laboratory for Atmospheres, Code 612NASA Goddard Space Flight CenterGreenbeltUSA

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