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Mechanisms for Global Warming Impacts on Precipitation Frequency and Intensity

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  • 1 Research Center for Environmental Changes, Academia Sinica, and Department of Atmospheric Sciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2 Department of Earth Sciences, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 3 Department of History and Geography, National Chiayi University, Chiayi, Taiwan
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Abstract

Global warming mechanisms that cause changes in frequency and intensity of precipitation in the tropics are examined in climate model simulations. Under global warming, tropical precipitation tends to be more frequent and intense for heavy precipitation but becomes less frequent and weaker for light precipitation. Changes in precipitation frequency and intensity are both controlled by thermodynamic and dynamic components. The thermodynamic component is induced by changes in atmospheric water vapor, while the dynamic component is associated with changes in vertical motion. A set of equations is derived to estimate both thermodynamic and dynamic contributions to changes in frequency and intensity of precipitation, especially for heavy precipitation. In the thermodynamic contribution, increased water vapor reduces the magnitude of the required vertical motion to generate the same strength of precipitation, so precipitation frequency increases. Increased water vapor also intensifies precipitation due to the enhancement of water vapor availability in the atmosphere. In the dynamic contribution, the more stable atmosphere tends to reduce the frequency and intensity of precipitation, except for the heaviest precipitation. The dynamic component strengthens the heaviest precipitation in most climate model simulations, possibly due to a positive convective feedback.

Corresponding author address: Chia Chou, Research Center for Environmental Changes, Academia Sinica, P.O. Box 1-48, Taipei 11529, Taiwan. E-mail: chiachou@rcec.sinica.edu.tw

Abstract

Global warming mechanisms that cause changes in frequency and intensity of precipitation in the tropics are examined in climate model simulations. Under global warming, tropical precipitation tends to be more frequent and intense for heavy precipitation but becomes less frequent and weaker for light precipitation. Changes in precipitation frequency and intensity are both controlled by thermodynamic and dynamic components. The thermodynamic component is induced by changes in atmospheric water vapor, while the dynamic component is associated with changes in vertical motion. A set of equations is derived to estimate both thermodynamic and dynamic contributions to changes in frequency and intensity of precipitation, especially for heavy precipitation. In the thermodynamic contribution, increased water vapor reduces the magnitude of the required vertical motion to generate the same strength of precipitation, so precipitation frequency increases. Increased water vapor also intensifies precipitation due to the enhancement of water vapor availability in the atmosphere. In the dynamic contribution, the more stable atmosphere tends to reduce the frequency and intensity of precipitation, except for the heaviest precipitation. The dynamic component strengthens the heaviest precipitation in most climate model simulations, possibly due to a positive convective feedback.

Corresponding author address: Chia Chou, Research Center for Environmental Changes, Academia Sinica, P.O. Box 1-48, Taipei 11529, Taiwan. E-mail: chiachou@rcec.sinica.edu.tw
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