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Current Changes in Tropical Precipitation. Richard P. Allan Department of Meteorology, University of Reading Thanks to Brian Soden, Viju John, William Ingram, Peter Good, Igor Zveryaev, Mark Ringer and Tony Slingo [email protected]

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Current changes in tropical precipitation

Current Changes in Tropical Precipitation

Richard P. Allan

Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

Thanks to Brian Soden, Viju John, William Ingram, Peter Good, Igor Zveryaev, Mark Ringer and Tony Slingo [email protected]

Climate model projections (IPCC 2007)

Precipitation Intensity

  • Increased Precipitation

  • More Intense Rainfall

  • More droughts

  • Wet regions get wetter, dry regions get drier?

  • Regional projections??

Dry Days

Precipitation Change (%)

Physical basis: energy balance

  • Radiative Convective balance

    • Enhanced radiative cooling (Allen and Ingram, 2002)

    • Water vapour key: conserve RH, MALR (Stephens et al 94)

    • Modulated by GHG/aerosol forcings: fast and slow responses (Andrews et al. 2009 JGR; Dong et al. 2009 J Clim)

    • High cloud feedback

      (Lebsock et al. 2010 J Clim)

Temperature-dependent responses (2-3%/K)

CO2 increases mute the transient response somewhat (Andrews et al. 2010 ERL; Wu et al. 2010 GRL)

Trenberth et al. (2009) BAMS

Physical basis: water vapour


  • Clausius-Clapeyron

    • Low-level water vapour (~7%/K)

    • Intensification of rainfall O’Gorman & Schneider, 2009 PNAS

    • Moisture transport: enhanced P-E Held & Soden 2006 J Clim

  • Radiative/thermodynamic constraints:

    • Wet get wetter, dry regions gets drier

    • Reduced mass flux: declining Walker circulation (Vecchi and Soden, 2006)

Water vapour (mm)

Temperature (K)


Observed increase in water vapour and precipitation with warming

Precip. (%)

Allan and Soden (2008) Science

Tropical ocean column water vapour constrained by Clausius Clapeyron

John et al. (2009)

Water Vapour (mm)


…despite inaccurate mean state, Pierce et al.; John and Soden (both GRL, 2006)

…decreases in RH over land? (Simonds et al. 2009 JGR; see also Joshi et al. 08)

Reanalyses struggle to capture decadal changes in the water cycle.

- see also Trenberth et al. (2005) Clim. Dyn., Soden et al. (2005) Science

Contrasting precipitation response in wet and dry regions of the tropical circulation
Contrasting precipitation response in wet and dry regions of the tropical circulation




Precipitation change (%)


Sensitivity to reanalysis dataset used to define wet/dry regions

Updated from Allan and Soden (2007) GRL

Is the contrasting wet dry response robust
Is the contrasting wet/dry response robust? the tropical circulation

GPCP Ascent Region Precipitation (mm/day)

John et al. (2009) GRL

  • Large uncertainty in magnitude of change: satellite datasets and models & time period


  • Robust response: wet regions become wetter at the expense of dry regions. Is this an artefact of the reanalyses?

Precipitation changes in wettest 30 and driest 70 of grid boxes
Precipitation changes in wettest 30% and driest 70% of grid boxes

  • Wet/dry trends remain

    • 1979-1987 GPCP record may be suspect for dry region

    • SSM/I dry region record: inhomogeneity 2000/01?

  • GPCP trends 1988-2008

    • Wet: 1.8%/decade

    • Dry: -2.6%/decade

    • Upper range of model trend magnitudes



Increases in the frequency of the heaviest rainfall with warming: daily data from models and microwave satellite data (SSM/I)

Reduced frequency Increased frequency

Allan et al. (2010) Environ. Res. Lett.

Increase in intense rainfall with tropical ocean warming (close to Clausius Clapeyron)

SSM/I satellite observations at upper limit of model range

Model intense precipitation constrained by moist adiabatic lapse rate; responses highly sensitive to model-specific changes in upward velocities (O’Gorman &Schneider, 2009, PNAS; Gastineau & Soden 2009; Turner and Slingo, 2009 ASL).


Observations and simple physics (close to Clausius Clapeyron)help to confirm robust model projections

Increased precipitation (~2%/K)

Increased precipitation intensity (~7%/K)

Extratropics and wet regions of tropics get wetter

Dry regions of sub-tropics get drier

Transient response to GHG stabilisation

Outstanding Issues

Inaccurate simulation of precipitation events

Limitations of satellite and gauge data

Detecting and attributing signals

Cloud Feedback



END (close to Clausius Clapeyron)

Add in more about obs
Add in more about obs. (close to Clausius Clapeyron)

  • Add links to:

    • Lebsock et al. (2010) J Clim [rad/conv balance and feedback from obs]; Previdi (2010) ERL

    • Wu et al (2010) GRL; Andrews et al. (2010) ERL – transient changes in models

    • Enhanced moisture transport (dry to wet regions of tropics; tropics to extra-tropics) Held and Soden (2006) and implications for wet/dry region precipitation (Chou et al. 2007 GRL)

    • Clausius Clapeyron contraint on intense precipitation (e.g. O’Gorman and Schneider 2009 PNAS; Allan and Soden 2008 Science; Lenderink and van Mijgaard 2010 ERL)

    • Changes in surface evaporation (Richter and Xie 2008 JGR); declining pan evaporation trends and wind speed (Roderick et al. 2007 GRL)

    • Large-scale tropical circulation weakening (Vecchi and Soden, 2007 Nature) and variability (Park and Sohn, 2010 JGR in press)

Thermodynamic constraint (close to Clausius Clapeyron)


  • Clausius-Clapeyron

    • Low-level water vapour (~7%/K)

    • Intensification of rainfall: Trenberth et al. (2003) BAMS; Pall et al. (2007) Clim Dyn

  • Changes in intense rainfall also constrained by moist adiabat

    -O’Gorman and Schneider (2009) PNAS

  • Could extra latent heat release within storms enhance rainfall intensity above Clausius Clapeyron?

    • e.g. Lenderink and van Meijgaard (2008) Nature Geoscience

Top: GFDL cm2.1 2080-2099 minus 1980-1999 (% precipitation) (close to Clausius Clapeyron)

Bottom: GFDL-GPCP precipitation (%)

What do we expect
What do we expect? (close to Clausius Clapeyron)

  • Surface and atmosphere energy balance constraint (Allen and Ingram, 2002; Stephens and Ellis, 2008; Lambert and Webb, 2008, Andrews et al. 2009)

  • Moisture transport constraint (Held and Soden, 2006)

  • Moisture convergence constraint (O’Gorman and Schneider, 2009; Lenderink and Van Meijgaard, 2008)

  • Mass flux and moist adiabat arguments (e.g. Vecchi and Soden, 2007; Held and Soden, 2006)

  • Negative impact of greenhouse gases on transient precipitation response (Andrews et al. 2009; Wu et al. 2010)

  • See also special focus issue of Environmental Research Letters (No. 2, April-June 2010)

Observations (close to Clausius Clapeyron)

  • Daily estimates of column water vapour and precipitation from microwave retrievals (SSM/I) 1987-2009 (e.g. Wentz et al. 2007 Science) and TRMM (1998-present) microwave and radar

  • Blended precipitation from infra-red and microwave radiance and rain gauge, Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP; Huffman et al. (2009) GRL: monthly (1979-2009) and daily (1997-2009)

  • CERES Earth Radiation Budget measurements (2000-2006); ISCCP-based estimates (1983-2006)

Global precipitation changes constrained by radiative cooling

“Muted” precip response achieved through reduced Walker circulation (mass flux)

Enhanced tropical to extra-tropical moisture flux

Enhanced moisture flux from dry to wet regions of tropics

Enhanced moisture flux

Enhanced tropical to extra-tropical moisture flux

“Muted” evaporation through subtle changes in BL

Reduced rainfall intensity and/or frequency

Enhanced rainfall intensity: MALR scaling

Can we observe changes in atmospheric radiative heating cooling
Can we observe changes in atmospheric radiative heating/cooling?

Changes in atmospheric longwave radiative radiative cooling (Wm-2)


John et al. (2009) GRL

Avoid reanalyses in defining wet dry regions
Avoid reanalyses in defining wet/dry regions heating/cooling?

Sample grid boxes:

30% wettest

70% driest

Do wet/dry trends remain?