Intensification of precipitation extremes in the world's humid and water-limited regions

Markus G. Donat*, Oliver Angélil, Anna M. Ukkola

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    76 Citations (Scopus)


    Changes in precipitation totals and extremes are among the most relevant consequences of climate change, but in particular regional changes remain uncertain. While aggregating over larger regions reduces the noise in time series and typically shows increases in the intensity of precipitation extremes, it has been argued that this may not be the case in water-limited regions. Here we investigate long-term changes in annual precipitation totals and extremes aggregated over the world's humid, transitional, and dry regions as defined by their climatological water availability. We use the globally most complete observational datasets suitable for the analysis of daily precipitation extremes, and data from global climate model simulations. We show that precipitation totals and extremes have increased in the humid regions since the mid-20th century. Conversely, despite showing tendencies to increase, no robust changes can be detected in the drier regions, in part due to the large variability of precipitation and sparse observational coverage particularly in the driest regions. Future climate simulations under increased radiative forcing indicate total precipitation increases in more humid regions but no clear changes in the more arid regions, while precipitation extremes are more likely to increase than to decrease on average over both the humid and arid regions of the world. These results highlight the increasing risk of heavy precipitation in most regions of the world, including water-limited regions, with implications for related impacts through flooding risk or soil erosion.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number065003
    JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2019


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