Thursday, December 15, 2011

How will climate change affect rainfall?

The UK Met Office in the Guardian: Changes in rainfall and other forms of precipitation will be one of the most critical factors determining the overall impact of climate change. Rainfall is much more difficult to predict than temperature but there are some statements that scientists can make with confidence about the future.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, and globally water vapour increases by 7% for every degree centigrade of warming. How this will translate into changes in global precipitation is less clear cut but the total volume of precipitation is likely to increase by 1-2% per degree of warming.

There's evidence to show that regions that are already wet are likely to get wetter, but details on how much wetter and what impacts there will be on a local scale are more difficult to ascertain. The dry regions of the subtropics are likely to get drier and will shift towards the poles. For much of Europe, wetter winters are expected, but with drier summers over central and southern Europe.

It is the changes in weather patterns that make predicting rainfall particularly difficult. While different climate models are in broad agreement about future warming on a global scale, when it comes to predicting how these changes will impact weather – and consequently rainfall – there is less agreement at a detailed level.

It is likely that in a warmer climate heavy rainfall will increase and be produced by fewer more intense events. This could lead to longer dry spells and a higher risk of floods….

A rainstorm in Campinas, Brazil, shot by Felipe Micaroni Lalli, under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

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