A re-examination of the projected subtropical precipitation decline

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65 Scopus citations


A large-scale precipitation decline in the subtropics is a widely accepted projection of future climate change, but its causes and implications are uncertain. Two mechanisms are commonly used to explain the large-scale subtropical precipitation decline: an amplification of moisture export due to the increase in moisture and a poleward shift of subtropical subsidence associated with the poleward expansion of the Hadley cell. In an idealized experiment with abrupt CO 2 increase, we find that the subtropical precipitation decline forms primarily in the fast adjustment to CO 2 forcing during which neither of the two proposed mechanisms exists. Permitting the increase in moisture and the Hadley cell expansion does not substantially change the characteristics of the large-scale subtropical precipitation decline. This precipitation change should be interpreted as a response to the land-sea warming contrast, the direct radiative forcing of CO 2 and, in certain regions, the pattern of SST changes. Moreover, the subtropical precipitation decline is projected predominately over oceans. Over subtropical land regions, the precipitation decline is muted or even reversed by the land-sea warming contrast.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-57
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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