September 10, 2021
Journal Article

Emergence of seasonal delay of tropical rainfall during 1979-2019


Fundamental to Earth’s climate, tropical rainfall marks a dominant annual cycle characterized by its amplitude and phase, representing the range between wet and dry seasons and their onset timing, respectively. Under global warming, previous studies revealed enhanced amplitude of rainfall annual cycle over ocean1-4 and delayed phase over land in the tropics5-9, underpinned by solid theories9-11. It is unclear however whether these changes have already emerged in the observational records. Here, we report a robust delay of 3.02 and 3.43 days over the northern tropical land and Sahel respectively during 1979-2018 based on five observation datsets. Most of the delay is captured by multiple ensemble simulations driven by external forcings, with greenhouse gases (GHG) more important over the northern tropical land and anthropogenic aerosols (AER) more important over the Sahel. Both GHG and AER delay the annual cycle of regional precipitation similarly by producing a moister and more ocean-like atmosphere, thus increasing its lag in response to seasonal solar forcing. Our findings provide new evidence of the human footprints on Earth’s hydrological cycle at continental and regional scales. As GHG and AER continue to increase and decrease respectively, these seasonal delays will be further amplified in the future.

Published: September 10, 2021


Song F., L. Leung, J. Lu, L. Dong, W. Zhou, B.E. Harrop, and Y. Qian. 2021. "Emergence of seasonal delay of tropical rainfall during 1979-2019." Nature Climate Change 11, no. 7:605-612. PNNL-SA-155998. doi:10.1038/s41558-021-01066-x