Climate change and changes in global precipitation patterns: what do we know?

Environ Int. 2005 Oct;31(8):1167-81. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2005.03.004.


The objective of this paper is to synthesize the large literature recording changing patterns of precipitation in the observed data, thus indicating that climate change is already a reality. Such a synthesis is required not only for environmental researchers but also for policy makers. The key question is the broad picture at major regional and continental levels. Some interesting conclusions for this survey are emerging. For example, the review shows increased variance of precipitation everywhere. Consistent with this finding, we observe that wet areas become wetter, and dry and arid areas become more so. In addition, the following general changing pattern is emerging: (a) increased precipitation in high latitudes (Northern Hemisphere); (b) reductions in precipitation in China, Australia and the Small Island States in the Pacific; and (c) increased variance in equatorial regions. The changes in the major ocean currents also appear to be affecting precipitation patterns. For example, increased intensity and frequency of El Niño and ENSO seem associated with evidence of an observed "dipole" pattern affecting Africa and Asia, although this time series is too short so far. But the changing pattern calls for renewed efforts at adaptation to climate change, as the changing precipitation pattern will also affect the regional availability of food supply.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Environment
  • Greenhouse Effect*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Policy Making
  • Rain*
  • Water Movements