Drivers of precipitation change: An energetic understanding

T. B. Richardson, P. M. Forster, T. Andrews, O. Boucher, G. Faluvegi, D. Fläschner, Hodnebrog, M. Kasoar, A. Kirkevåg, J. F. Lamarque, G. Myhre, D. Olivié, B. H. Samset, D. Shawki, D. Shindell, T. Takemura, A. Voulgarakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


The response of the hydrological cycle to climate forcings can be understood within the atmospheric energy budget framework. In this study precipitation and energy budget responses to five forcing agents are analyzed using 10 climate models from the Precipitation Driver Response Model Intercomparison Project (PDRMIP). Precipitation changes are split into a forcing-dependent fast response and a temperature-driven hydrological sensitivity. Globally, when normalized by top-of-atmosphere (TOA) forcing, fast precipitation changes are most sensitive to strongly absorbing drivers (CO2, black carbon). However, over land fast precipitation changes are most sensitive to weakly absorbing drivers (sulfate, solar) and are linked to rapid circulation changes. Despite this, land-mean fast responses to CO2 and black carbon exhibit more intermodel spread. Globally, the hydrological sensitivity is consistent across forcings, mainly associated with increased longwave cooling, which is highly correlated with intermodel spread. The land-mean hydrological sensitivity is weaker, consistent with limited moisture availability. The PDRMIP results are used to construct a simple model for land-mean and sea-mean precipitation change based on sea surface temperature change and TOA forcing. The model matches well with CMIP5 ensemble mean historical and future projections, and is used to understand the contributions of different drivers. During the twentieth century, temperature-driven intensification of land-mean precipitation has been masked by fast precipitation responses to anthropogenic sulfate and volcanic forcing, consistent with the small observed trend. However, as projected sulfate forcing decreases, and warming continues, land-mean precipitation is expected to increase more rapidly, and may become clearly observable by the mid-twenty-first century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9641-9657
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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