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Summer drought in northern midlatitudes in a time-dependent CO2 climate experiment

Gregory, J. M., Mitchell, J. F. B. and Brady, A. J. (1997) Summer drought in northern midlatitudes in a time-dependent CO2 climate experiment. Journal of Climate, 10 (4). pp. 662-686. ISSN 1520-0442

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To link to this article DOI: 10.1175/1520-0442(1997)010<0662:SDINMI>2.0.CO;2

Abstract/Summary

A time-dependent climate-change experiment with a coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model has been used to study changes in the occurrence of drought in summer in southern Europe and central North America. In both regions, precipitation and soil moisture are reduced in a climate of greater atmospheric carbon dioxide. A detailed investigation of the hydrology of the model shows that the drying of the soil comes about through an increase in evaporation in winter and spring, caused by higher temperatures and reduced snow cover, and a decrease in the net input of water in summer. Evaporation is reduced in summer because of the drier soil, but the reduction in precipitation is larger. Three extreme statistics are used to define drought, namely the frequency of low summer precipitation, the occurrence of long dry spells, and the probability of dry soil. The last of these is arguably of the greatest practical importance, but since it is based on soil moisture, of which there are very few observations, the authors’ simulation of it has the least confidence. Furthermore, long time series for daily observed precipitation are not readily available from a sufficient number of stations to enable a thorough evaluation of the model simulation, especially for the frequency of long dry spells, and this increases the systematic uncertainty of the model predictions. All three drought statistics show marked increases owing to the sensitivity of extreme statistics to changes in their distributions. However, the greater likelihood of long dry spells is caused by a tendency in the character of daily rainfall toward fewer events, rather than by the reduction in mean precipitation. The results should not be taken as firm predictions because extreme statistics for small regions cannot be calculated reliably from the output of the current generation of GCMs, but they point to the possibility of large increases in the severity of drought conditions as a consequence of climate change caused by increased CO2.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences > Department of Meteorology
Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences > NCAS
ID Code:19431
Publisher:American Meteorological Society

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