IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Precipitation and Surface Water

Models simulate that global mean precipitation increases with global warming. However, there are substantial spatial and seasonal variations in this field even in the multi-model means depicted in Figure 10.9. There are fewer areas stippled for precipitation than for the warming, indicating more variation in the magnitude of change among the ensemble of models. Increases in precipitation at high latitudes in both seasons are very consistent across models. The increases in precipitation over the tropical oceans and in some of the monsoon regimes (e.g., South Asian monsoon in JJA, Australian monsoon in DJF) are notable, and while not as consistent locally, considerable agreement is found at the broader scale in the tropics (Neelin et al., 2006). There are widespread decreases in mid-latitude summer precipitation, except for increases in eastern Asia. Decreases in precipitation over many subtropical areas are evident in the multi-model ensemble mean, and consistency in the sign of change among the models is often high (Wang, 2005), particularly in some regions like the tropical Central American-Caribbean (Neelin et al., 2006). Further discussion of regional changes is presented in Chapter 11.

The global map of the A1B 2080 to 2099 change in annual mean precipitation is shown in Figure 10.12, along with other hydrological quantities from the multi-model ensemble. Emori and Brown (2005) show percentage changes of annual precipitation from the ensemble. Increases of over 20% occur at most high latitudes, as well as in eastern Africa, central Asia and the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The change over the ocean between 10°S and 10°N accounts for about half the increase in the global mean (Figure 10.5). Substantial decreases, reaching 20%, occur in the Mediterranean region (Rowell and Jones, 2006), the Caribbean region (Neelin et al., 2006) and the subtropical western coasts of each continent. Overall, precipitation over land increases by about 5%, while precipitation over ocean increases 4%, but with regional changes of both signs. The net change over land accounts for 24% of the global mean increase in precipitation, a little less than the areal proportion of land (29%). In Figure 10.12, stippling indicates that the sign of the local change is common to at least 80% of the models (with the alternative test shown in the Supplementary Material). This simpler test for consistency is of particular interest for quantities where the magnitudes for the base climate vary across models.

These patterns of change occur in the other scenarios, although with agreement (by the metric M) a little lower than for the warming. The predominance of increases near the equator and at high latitudes, for both land and ocean, is clear from the zonal mean changes of precipitation included in Figure 10.6. The results for change scaled by global mean warming are rather similar across the four scenarios, an exception being a relatively large increase over the equatorial ocean for the commitment case. As with surface temperature, the A1B and B1 scaled values are always close to the A2 results. The zonal means of the percentage change map (shown in Figure 10.6) feature substantial decreases in the subtropics and lower mid-latitudes of both hemispheres in the A2 case, even if increases occur over some regions.

Figure 10.12

Figure 10.12. Multi-model mean changes in (a) precipitation (mm day–1), (b) soil moisture content (%), (c) runoff (mm day–1) and (d) evaporation (mm day–1). To indicate consistency in the sign of change, regions are stippled where at least 80% of models agree on the sign of the mean change. Changes are annual means for the SRES A1B scenario for the period 2080 to 2099 relative to 1980 to 1999. Soil moisture and runoff changes are shown at land points with valid data from at least 10 models. Details of the method and results for individual models can be found in the Supplementary Material for this chapter.

Wetherald and Manabe (2002) provide a good description of the mechanism of hydrological change simulated by GCMs. In GCMs, the global mean evaporation changes closely balance the precipitation change, but not locally because of changes in the atmospheric transport of water vapour. Annual average evaporation (Figure 10.12) increases over much of the ocean, with spatial variations tending to relate to those in the surface warming (Figure 10.8). As found by Kutzbach et al. (2005) and Bosilovich et al. (2005), atmospheric moisture convergence increases over the equatorial oceans and over high latitudes. Over land, rainfall changes tend to be balanced by both evaporation and runoff. Runoff (Figure 10.12) is notably reduced in southern Europe and increased in Southeast Asia and at high latitudes, where there is consistency among models in the sign of change (although less consistency in the magnitude of change). The larger changes reach 20% or more of the simulated 1980 to 1999 values, which range from 1 to 5 mm day–1 in wetter regions to below 0.2 mm day–1 in deserts. Runoff from the melting of ice sheets (Section 10.3.3) is not included here. Nohara et al. (2006) and Milly et al. (2005) assess the impacts of these changes in terms of river flow, and find that discharges from high-latitude rivers increase, while those from major rivers in the Middle East, Europe and Central America tend to decrease.

Models simulate the moisture in the upper few metres of the land surface in varying ways, and evaluation of the soil moisture content is still difficult (See Section; Wang, 2005; Gao and Dirmeyer, 2006 for multi-model analyses). The average of the total soil moisture content quantity submitted to the data set is presented here to indicate typical trends. In the annual mean (Figure 10.12), decreases are common in the subtropics and the Mediterranean region. There are increases in east Africa, central Asia, and some other regions with increased precipitation. Decreases also occur at high latitudes, where snow cover diminishes (Section 10.3.3). While the magnitudes of change are quite uncertain, there is good consistency in the signs of change in many of these regions. Similar patterns of change occur in seasonal results (Wang, 2005). Regional hydrological changes are considered in Chapter 11 and in the IPCC Working Group II report.