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As Climate Change Continues, Precipitation Levels Will Increase: A Study

Apr 06, 2013 02:45 PM EDT
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Time to invest in a better umbrella and rain boots: North America could see as much as a 20 to 30 percent rise in the maximum precipitation possible as a result of global warming, according to a study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The article, published in Geophysical Research Letters, examined three key areas to rainfall in order to come up with their results: moisture in the atmosphere, upward motion of air and horizontal winds. And while a rise in greenhouse gases didn't cause changes in the direction of air - be it up or sideways - in their findings, it did cause an increase in the amount of moisture in the air.

The reason, explain researchers, is that as the Earth's average temperature increases, more water evaporates from the oceans and enters the atmosphere, which in turn translates into more precipitation.

Kenneth Kunkel is a senior research professor at North Carolina State University's Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites-North Carolina and the paper's lead author. Based on their findings, he warns that not only will things get wetter, but the impact of storms is likely to increase.

"We have high confidence that the most extreme rainfalls will become even more intense, as it is virtually certain that the atmosphere will provide more water to fuel these events," he said.

On the bright side, Kunkel and his colleagues point out, there is still time to prepare - they estimate that these changes will likely not take effect until roughly 2071 and 2100 should greenhouse gases continue to rise at a high emissions rate.

Still, the researchers stress, preparation is necessary in order to withstand such a change in climate.

"Our next challenge is to translate this research into local and regional new design values that can be used for identifying risks and mitigating potential disasters," said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., director of NOAA's National Climate Data Center and paper co-author. "Findings of this study, and others like it, could lead to new information for engineers and developers that will save lives and major infrastructure investments."

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