Rising temperatures increase importance of oceanic evaporation as a source for continental precipitation

Kirsten L. Findell, Patrick W. Keys, Ruud J. van der Ent, Benjamin R. Lintner, Alexis Berg, John P. Krasting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Understanding vulnerabilities of continental precipitation to changing climatic conditions is of critical importance to society at large. Terrestrial precipitation is fed by moisture originating as evaporation from oceans and from recycling of water evaporated from continental sources. In this study, continental precipitation and evaporation recycling processes in the Earth system model GFDL-ESM2G are shown to be consistent with estimates from two different reanalysis products. The GFDL-ESM2G simulations of historical and future climate also show that values of continental moisture recycling ratios were systematically higher in the past and will be lower in the future. Global mean recycling ratios decrease 2%–3% with each degree of temperature increase, indicating the increased importance of oceanic evaporation for continental precipitation. Theoretical arguments for recycling changes stem from increasing atmospheric temperatures and evaporative demand that drive increases in evaporation over oceans that are more rapid than those over land as a result of terrestrial soil moisture limitations. Simulated recycling changes are demonstrated to be consistent with these theoretical arguments. A simple prototype describing this theory effectively captures the zonal mean behavior of GFDL-ESM2G. Implications of such behavior are particularly serious in rain-fed agricultural regions where crop yields will become increasingly soil moisture limited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7713-7726
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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