NERC-funded science predicts UK rainfall of the future

1 December 2015

Soaring temperatures could mean less summer rain despite previous research showing a strong link between climate change and a wet UK holiday season.

Children playing in the rain

New work part-funded by NERC now suggests a sharp decline in the intensity of UK summer rainfall, but only when daily average temperatures get higher than around 22°C.

The research, carried out by Met Office and Newcastle University scientists, was published in Nature Geoscience yesterday (Monday 30 November) and looks at the effect of temperature on rainfall in a future warmer climate.

It adds to findings from a paper published last year which suggested summer rainfall would become more intense under climate change. The new study agrees with that finding, but found that on the very hottest future days the relationship between increasing rainfall intensity and temperature starts to break down.

Steven Chan, lead author of the study, who is a research associate at Newcastle University and visiting scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said:

On days where the average day and night temperature is about 22°C, which is well in excess of anything we would ever see today, our study showed a sharp decline in summer rainfall intensity. This is because our model suggests a change in circulation patterns over the UK in future, leading to hot days with reduced availability of moisture.

Overall we still expect a significant increase in intense summer rainfall in future but this latest study explains that the very hottest future days may see less intense rainfall than would be predicted simply from temperature constraints.

NERC-funded Professor Hayley Fowler, a Royal Society Wolfson Research fellow at Newcastle University and a co-author on the paper, said:

The new study is an important step towards understanding the flooding risks of the future.

The next steps will be to collect a global database of hourly rainfall to see whether there are observed trends, what is causing these and to find out whether changes projected by these new very high resolution climate models are different elsewhere.

Ruth Kelman, head of freshwater sciences at NERC said:

This research by Newcastle University and the Met Office highlights the complex and variable impact climate change is likely to have on rainfall in the UK and will help us prepare for changing weather patterns in the future.

Elizabeth Kendon, co-author of the paper and manager of Understanding Regional Climate Change at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said:

State-of-the-art high resolution Met Office model projections show UK extreme precipitation intensifying under future global warming, but that the warmest future days in summer are unfavourable to extreme precipitation. Similar phenomena have been observed in parts of the tropics and subtropics.

The high resolution model used in this study was able to capture the observed temperature-precipitation relationship allowing, for the first time, an investigation into whether this relationship extends into the future.


Further information

Tamera Jones
NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


Notes

1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body, receiving around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). This year marks NERC's 50th anniversary.