Greenhouse Warming Linked to Shifts in Rainfall

  • Released Thursday, May 9, 2013
  • Updated Wednesday, September 21, 2016 at 2:34PM
  • ID: 4073

Global warming may increase the risk for extreme rainfall and drought according to a NASA-led modeling study. The study shows for the first time how rising carbon dioxide concentrations could affect the entire range of rainfall types on Earth. Analysis of information from 14 climate models indicates wet regions of the world, such as the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the Asian monsoon regions, will likely see increases in heavy precipitation because of warming resulting from projected increases in carbon dioxide levels. Arid land areas outside the tropics and many regions with moderate rainfall could become drier.

The models project for every 1 degree Fahrenheit of carbon dioxide-induced warming, heavy rainfall will increase globally by 3.9 percent and light rain will increase globally by 1 percent. However, total global rainfall is not projected to change much because moderate rainfall will decrease globally by 1.4 percent.

This visualization shows an average rainfall month for June,July, and August. The movie will display areas with no rain (brown), moderate rain (tan), and heavy rain (blue). Very Heavy rainfall (dark blue) is defined as months that receive an average of 0.95 of an inch of rain per day (24 mm/day) every day for the months of June, July, and August. Heavy rainfall is defined as months that receive an average of more than about 0.35 of an inch per day (9 mm/day). Light rain is defined as months that receive an average of less than 0.01 of an inch per day. Moderate rainfall is defined as months that receive an average of between about 0.04 to 0.09 of an inch per day.

Model simulations spanning 140 years show that warming from carbon dioxide will change the frequency that regions around the planet receive no rain (brown), light rain(tan), moderate rain (yellow), and very heavy rain (blue). The occurrence of no rain and heavy rain will increase, while moderate rainfall will decrease.

Precipitation from NCAR's Community Climate System Model (CCSM) colorbar

Precipitation from NCAR's Community Climate System Model (CCSM) colorbar

This frames set only contains the layer showing global precipitation from the National Center for Atmospheric Research's (NCAR) Community Climate System Model (CCSM).

This frame set contains the a sequence of barplots showing fractional change in the frequency of no rain, moderate rain, and heavy rain. Global warming induces an increase in frequency of heavy rain and in dry months

while moderate rain is decreasing.


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio


This visualization can be found in the following series:

Datasets used in this visualization

ModelNCARJune, July, August year 1 through 140

Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

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