A new study led by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that as the planet warms further as a result of increasing levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, the more moisture in the warmer atmosphere will make the already extreme precipitation events more intense.
The study further showed that a 20% to 30% increase in maximum precipitation possible over large portions of the Northern Hemisphere were expected, unless greenhouse gas emissions were significantly curbed soon.
“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,” said Kenneth Kunkel, Ph.D., senior research professor at CICS-NC and lead author of the paper.
The research, which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, looked at three separate factors that are part of maximum precipitation levels in any given location: moisture in the atmosphere, upward motion of air in the atmosphere, and horizontal winds.
The research team — made up of researchers from North Carolina State University’s Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites-North Carolina (CICS-NC), NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the Desert Research Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and ERT, Inc., — examined climate model data and found that while greenhouse gasses did not substantially impact the maximum upward motion of the atmosphere or horizontal winds, it did have a 20% to 30% increase on the maximum moisture in the atmosphere.
“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. 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,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., director of NOAA’s NCDC in Asheville, N.C., and co-author on the paper.