AbstractA compositing scheme that predicts changes in tropical precipitation under climate change from changes in near-surface relative humidity (RH) and temperature is presented. As shown by earlier work, regions of high tropical precipitation in general circulation models (GCMs) are associated with high near-surface RH and temperature. Under climate change, we find that high precipitation continues to be associated with the highest surface RH and temperatures in most CMIP5 GCMs, meaning that it is the “rank” of a given GCM gridbox with respect to others that determines how much precipitation falls rather than the absolute value of surface temperature or RH change, consistent with the weak temperature gradient approximation. Further, we demonstrate that the majority of CMIP5 GCMs are close to a threshold near which reductions in land RH produce large reductions in the RH-ranking of some land regions, causing reductions in precipitation over land, particularly South America, and compensating increases over ocean. Recent work on predicting future changes in specific humidity allows us to predict the qualitative sense of precipitation change in some GCMs when land surface humidity changes are unknown. However, the magnitudes of predicted changes are too small. Further study, perhaps into the role of radiative and land-atmosphere feedbacks that we neglect, is necessary.
Journal of Climate – American Meteorological Society
Published: Mar 8, 2017
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