Such a scenario could make floods fiercer, damage more crops, and worsen the spread of diseases such as malaria, scientists say.
Rainfall patterns are already shifting as Earth warms under a blanket of humanmade greenhouse gases, experts say.
Study co-author Richard P. Allan, an atmospheric scientist at the
University of Reading in Berkshire, United Kingdom, said previous
studies have shown that "wet regions are becoming wetter, and dry
The study team analyzed satellite images of rainfall over tropical oceans over nearly two decades, from 1988 to 2004.
The researchers found that during El Niño
years, which tend to be warmer, rain fell in heavier showers. An El
Niño is a climate event where the flow of abnormally warm surface
Pacific waters temporarily changes global weather patterns.
"This is something that climate models had predicted," Allan said. "But getting the data from observations is very important."
Many previous rainfall pattern studies have relied on
measurements from rain gauges. Such gauges are sparsely distributed
across land, Allan said, whereas satellites can see large areas as a
Global Warming Forecast
Although our planet is warming overall, Earth's climate still varies between warmer and wetter El Niño years and cooler and drier La Niña years.
Looking at these changes in rainfall can give scientists a good
estimate of what will happen with continued global warming, according
to Allan and his co-author, Brian Soder of the University of Florida.
With continued global warming, the changes in Earth's rainfall
patterns will be worse than previously forecast, Allan and Soder write.
For every 1.8 degree Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) rise in global
temperature, heavy rain showers became more common, with most intense
category jumping 60 percent, says the study, which will be published
tomorrow in the journal Science.