Reconciling historical changes in the hydrological cycle over land

Sanaa Hobeichi, Gab Abramowitz, Anna M. Ukkola, Martin De Kauwe, Andy Pitman, Jason P. Evans, Hylke Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report confirms that global warming drives widespread changes in the global terrestrial hydrological cycle, and that changes are regionally diverse. However, reported trends and changes in the hydrological cycle suffer from significant inconsistencies. This is associated with the lack of a rigorous observationally-based assessment of simultaneous trends in the different components of the hydrological cycle. Here, we reconcile these different estimates of historical changes by simultaneously analysing trends in all the major components of the hydrological cycle, coupled with vegetation greenness for the period 1980–2012. We use observationally constrained, conserving estimates of the closure of the hydrological cycle, combined with a data assimilation approach and observationally-driven uncertainty estimates. We find robust changes in the hydrological cycle across more than 50% of the land area, with evapotranspiration (ET) changing the most and precipitation (P) the least. We find many instances of unambiguous trends in ET and runoff (Q) without robust trends in P, a result broadly consistent with a “wet gets wetter, but dry does not get drier”. These findings provide important opportunities for water resources management and climate risk assessment over a significant fraction of the land surface where hydrological trends have previously been uncertain.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Journalnpj Climate and Atmospheric Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022
Externally publishedYes


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