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Global Changes of the Water Cycle Intensity

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  • 1 Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
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Abstract

In this study, numerical simulations of the twentieth-century climate are evaluated, focusing on the changes in the intensity of the global water cycle. A new model diagnostic of atmospheric water vapor cycling rate is developed and employed that relies on constituent tracers predicted at the model time step. This diagnostic is compared to a simplified traditional calculation of cycling rate, based on monthly averages of precipitation and total water content. The mean sensitivity of both diagnostics to variations in climate forcing is comparable. However, the new diagnostic produces systematically larger values with more variability.

Climate simulations were performed using SSTs of the early (1902–21) and late (1979–98) twentieth century along with the appropriate CO2 forcing. In general, the increase of global precipitation with the increases in SST that occurred between the early and late twentieth century is small. However, an increase of atmospheric temperature leads to a systematic increase in total precipitable water. As a result, the residence time of water in the atmosphere increased, indicating a reduction of the global cycling rate. This result was explored further using a number of 50-yr climate simulations from different models forced with observed SST. The anomalies and trends in the cycling rate and hydrologic variables of different GCMs are remarkably similar. The global annual anomalies of precipitation show a significant upward trend related to the upward trend of surface temperature, during the latter half of the twentieth century. While this implies an increase in the simulated hydrologic cycle intensity, a concomitant increase of total precipitable water again leads to a decrease in the calculated global cycling rate. An analysis of the land/sea differences shows that the simulated precipitation over land has a decreasing trend, while the oceanic precipitation has an upward trend consistent with previous studies and the available observations. The decreasing continental trend in precipitation is located primarily over tropical land regions, with some other regions, such as North America, experiencing an increasing trend. Precipitation trends are diagnosed further using the water tracers to delineate the precipitation that occurs because of continental evaporation, as opposed to oceanic evaporation. These model diagnostics show that over global land areas, the recycling of continental moisture is decreasing in time. However, the recycling changes are not spatially uniform so that some regions, most notably over the United States, experience continental recycling of water that increases in time.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Michael G. Bosilovich, Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, Code 610.1, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771. Email: michael.bosilovich@nasa.gov

Abstract

In this study, numerical simulations of the twentieth-century climate are evaluated, focusing on the changes in the intensity of the global water cycle. A new model diagnostic of atmospheric water vapor cycling rate is developed and employed that relies on constituent tracers predicted at the model time step. This diagnostic is compared to a simplified traditional calculation of cycling rate, based on monthly averages of precipitation and total water content. The mean sensitivity of both diagnostics to variations in climate forcing is comparable. However, the new diagnostic produces systematically larger values with more variability.

Climate simulations were performed using SSTs of the early (1902–21) and late (1979–98) twentieth century along with the appropriate CO2 forcing. In general, the increase of global precipitation with the increases in SST that occurred between the early and late twentieth century is small. However, an increase of atmospheric temperature leads to a systematic increase in total precipitable water. As a result, the residence time of water in the atmosphere increased, indicating a reduction of the global cycling rate. This result was explored further using a number of 50-yr climate simulations from different models forced with observed SST. The anomalies and trends in the cycling rate and hydrologic variables of different GCMs are remarkably similar. The global annual anomalies of precipitation show a significant upward trend related to the upward trend of surface temperature, during the latter half of the twentieth century. While this implies an increase in the simulated hydrologic cycle intensity, a concomitant increase of total precipitable water again leads to a decrease in the calculated global cycling rate. An analysis of the land/sea differences shows that the simulated precipitation over land has a decreasing trend, while the oceanic precipitation has an upward trend consistent with previous studies and the available observations. The decreasing continental trend in precipitation is located primarily over tropical land regions, with some other regions, such as North America, experiencing an increasing trend. Precipitation trends are diagnosed further using the water tracers to delineate the precipitation that occurs because of continental evaporation, as opposed to oceanic evaporation. These model diagnostics show that over global land areas, the recycling of continental moisture is decreasing in time. However, the recycling changes are not spatially uniform so that some regions, most notably over the United States, experience continental recycling of water that increases in time.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Michael G. Bosilovich, Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, Code 610.1, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771. Email: michael.bosilovich@nasa.gov

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