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Increased water vapour lifetime due to global warming

Hodnebrog, Ø., Myhre, G., Samset, B. H., Alterskjær, K., Andrews, T., Boucher, O., Faluvegi, G., Fläschner, D., Forster, P. M., Kasoar, M., Kirkevåg, A., Lamarque, J.-F., Olivié, D., Richardson, T. B., Shawki, D., Shindell, D., Shine, K. P., Stier, P., Takemura, T., Voulgarakis, A. and Watson-Parris, D. (2019) Increased water vapour lifetime due to global warming. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, 19. pp. 12887-12899. ISSN 1680-7375

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To link to this item DOI: 10.5194/acp-2019-121

Abstract/Summary

Water vapour in the atmosphere is the source of a major climate feedback mechanism and potential increases in the availability of water vapour could have important consequences for mean and extreme precipitation. Future precipitation changes further depend on how the hydrological cycle responds to drivers of climate change, such as greenhouse gases and aerosols. Currently, neither the total anthropogenic influence on the hydrological cycle, nor those from individual drivers, are constrained sufficiently to make solid projections. We investigate how integrated water vapour (IWV) responds to different drivers of climate change. Results from 11 global climate models have been used, based on simulations where CO2, methane, solar irradiance, black carbon (BC), and sulphate have been perturbed separately. While the global-mean IWV is usually assumed to increase by ~7% per degree K surface temperature change, we find that the feedback response of IWV differs somewhat between drivers. Fast responses, which include the initial radiative effect and rapid adjustments to an external forcing, amplify these differences. The resulting net changes in IWV range from 6.4±0.9%/K for sulphate to 9.8±2%/K for BC. We further calculate the relationship between global changes in IWV and precipitation, which can be characterized by quantifying changes in atmospheric water vapour lifetime. Global climate models simulate a substantial increase in the lifetime, from 8.2±0.5 to 9.9±0.7 days between 1986-2005 and 2081-2100 under a high emission scenario, and we discuss to what extent the water vapour lifetime provides additional information compared to analysis of IWV and precipitation separately. We conclude that water vapour lifetime changes are an important indicator of changes in precipitation patterns and that BC is particularly efficient in prolonging the distance between evaporation and precipitation.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:86600
Publisher:European Geosciences Union

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