Climate models underestimate the increase in heavy rainfall due to global warming: what can we expect?  |  Science and the planet

Climate models underestimate the increase in heavy rainfall due to global warming: what can we expect? | Science and the planet

Climate models underestimate the extent of the extreme increase in precipitation due to global warming. It appears from Recent study From the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Therefore, we will experience more frequent floods in the future unless we significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But what increase do researchers expect? How intense is the rainfall?

Researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research looked at the intensity and frequency of daily rainfall using 21 modern climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to make global assessments. They compared what these models predict with what has been observed historically, and found that almost all models underestimate how quickly extreme precipitation will increase due to rising global temperatures. Extreme weather events appear to be worsening faster due to climate change than models predicted.

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The relationship between extreme precipitation on land and mean surface temperature (SAT) around the world according to climate models and temperature increase scenarios. With an increase of +3°C, the intensity increases by about 20% and the frequency by about 40%. © Kotz et al., 2024

The study confirms that the intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall increases significantly with every increase in global warming. This increase in precipitation is largely due to the fact that warmer air can contain more water vapor. Although the average increases are consistent with expectations of this relationship in climate models, individual models show significant differences. These differences will contribute to uncertainty about the expected change.

Because of the strong correlation between increased precipitation and rising temperatures, the study confirms that temperature, not wind, is the most important factor driving global changes in extreme rainfall. The largest increases in rainfall intensity and frequency are observed in the tropics and at high latitudes, such as Southeast Asia and northern Canada. But it's certainly not far from our bedside display. Consider, for example, the major floods in Wallonia in 2021.

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Changes in extreme daily precipitation (intensity and frequency) under historical and future human influences, detected in separate climate models.
Changes in extreme daily precipitation (intensity and frequency) under historical and future human influences, detected in separate climate models. © Kotz et al., 2024

Climate forecasts indicate that heavy rainfall will become heavier and more frequent in the future. Since models have underestimated historical increases, this new study highlights a troubling finding that suggests there is a greater risk of significant increases in extreme precipitation rates than models currently predict, especially in terms of their frequency. It is necessary for society to prepare for this. Any increase in global temperature due to greenhouse gas emissions leads to stronger extreme rainfall events.

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