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NASA Reveals Global Warming Linked to Drought and Extreme Rainfall

First Posted: May 03, 2013 03:33 PM EDT

You know the theory that global warming is causing extreme weather, such as drought and blizzards? Well it might just be true. A NASA-led study has provided new evidence that rising carbon dioxide emissions may be increasing the risk for extreme rainfall and drought.

In order to conduct the study, researchers analyzed computer simulations from 14 climate models that occurred for 140-year periods. The simulations began with carbon dioxide concentrations at about 280 parts per million, similar to pre-industrial levels and well below the current level of almost 400 parts per million. The models then increased by one percent per year, a rate of increase that is consistent with a "business as usual" trajectory of the greenhouse gas.

So what did they find? It turns out that the increased carbon dioxide drastically affected rainfall patterns across the globe.

"In response to carbon dioxide-induced warming, the global water cycle undergoes a gigantic competition for moisture resulting in a global pattern of increased heavy rain, decreased moderate rain and prolonged droughts in certain regions," said William Lau, lead author of the study, in a news release.

Yet the regions that will probably be hit the hardest in the future will be deserts and arid regions. These areas include the southwest United States, Mexico, North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and northwestern China. The models projected that for every degree Fahrenheit of warming, the length of periods with no rain will increase globally by 2.6 percent. For areas that already receive so little rainfall, these conditions could be catastrophic.

Yet it's not just the arid regions that will be heavily hit. Places in the tropics that receive heavy rainfall will also experience changes. Rain actually will increase in those areas, which means that they will be at increased risk of flooding.

"Large changes in moderate rainfall, as well as prolonged no-rain events, can have the most impact on society because they occur in regions where most people live," said Lau in a new release. "Ironically, the regions of heavier rainfall, except for the Asian monsoon, may have the smallest societal impact because they usually occur over the ocean."

The findings were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Want to see the computer simulations for yourself? Check out the video here.

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