UK rainfall could far exceed current future climate projections, says study

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A new analysis of rainfall in the UK has revealed that current climate models may be severely underestimating future rainfall in the country.

Climate scientists from the University of Plymouth analyzed rainfall records dating from the 1870s right up to the present day. They then compared these records against those featured in the UK Met Office’s 2018 UK Climate Projections report.

Through this comparison they were able to note a significant rise in spring, autumn and winter rainfall, particularly in upland areas where there are strong prevailing winds.

While winter rainfall rises were broadly in line with Met Office predictions, they found a large divergence for other times of year. Once again, this was most apparent in upland regions of the country.

Study co-author and environmental science professor at the university Dr Paul Lunt told Science Daily the research “helps to contextualise the latest UK climate change projections, and suggest caution is required when making assumptions on climate impacts based on climate models.”

Lunt noted that while current models predicted a 20% drop in rainfall by 2050 in the upland southwest English region of Dartmoor, past records suggest rainfall there is actually likely to increase.

Upland areas of 300m or more above sea level comprise about a third of the UK’s land mass.

Many are protected due to their importance for biodiversity and cultural heritage. They also play a major role in water management, supplying 68% of the UK’s freshwater.

Rainfall in these areas is typically twice that of the rest of the UK. As such they also represent a significant flood risk to downstream areas.

According to Lunt, the research, published in Climate Research, “highlights the complex challenges facing those trying to predict the effects of climate change.”

Lunt told Science Daily: “Upland areas are among the most important UK regions in terms of biodiversity and carbon sequestration, but they are also the most vulnerable to increased precipitation.”

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