Physically Consistent Responses of the Global Atmospheric Hydrological Cycle in Models and Observations

  • Richard P. AllanEmail author
  • Chunlei Liu
  • Matthias Zahn
  • David A. Lavers
  • Evgenios Koukouvagias
  • Alejandro Bodas-Salcedo
Part of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI book series (SSSI, volume 46)


Robust and physically understandable responses of the global atmospheric water cycle to a warming climate are presented. By considering interannual responses to changes in surface temperature (T), observations and AMIP5 simulations agree on an increase in column integrated water vapor at the rate 7 %/K (in line with the Clausius–Clapeyron equation) and of precipitation at the rate 2–3 %/K (in line with energetic constraints).Using simple and complex climate models, we demonstrate that radiative forcing by greenhouse gases is currently suppressing global precipitation (P) at ~−0.15 %/decade. Along with natural variability, this can explain why observed trends in global P over the period 1988−2008 are close to zero. Regional responses in the global water cycle are strongly constrained by changes in moisture fluxes. Model simulations show an increased moisture flux into the tropical wet region at 900 hPa and an enhanced outflow (of smaller magnitude) at around 600 hPa with warming. Moisture transport explains an increase in P in the wet tropical regions and small or negative changes in the dry regions of the subtropics in CMIP5 simulations of a warming climate. For AMIP5 simulations and satellite observations, the heaviest 5-day rainfall totals increase in intensity at ~15 %/K over the ocean with reductions at all percentiles over land. The climate change response in CMIP5 simulations shows consistent increases in P over ocean and land for the highest intensities, close to the Clausius−Clapeyron scaling of 7 %/K, while P declines for the lowest percentiles, indicating that interannual variability over land may not be a good proxy for climate change. The local changes in precipitation and its extremes are highly dependent upon small shifts in the large-scale atmospheric circulation and regional feedbacks.


Precipitation Water Climate models Satellite data Global change 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard P. Allan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Chunlei Liu
    • 1
  • Matthias Zahn
    • 1
  • David A. Lavers
    • 1
  • Evgenios Koukouvagias
    • 1
  • Alejandro Bodas-Salcedo
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Meteorology, National Centre for Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  2. 2.Met Office Hadley CentreExeterUK

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