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CR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/cr01583

Taking the higher ground: deviation between projected and observed precipitation trends varies with altitude

T. R. Murphy*, M. E. Hanley, J. S. Ellis, P. H. Lunt

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Variation in the amount and intensity of precipitation is one of the most important factors determining how biological systems respond to anthropogenic climate change. Moreover, given the importance of climate projections for influencing (inter)national policy, there is a pressing need to contextualise contemporary projections with observed trends to better inform environmental strategy and planning. In this study we examine trends from one of the longest paired time series of upland (>300m) and lowland precipitation records (1879–2012), and shorter-term observations (1961–2015) from multiple upland locations in South West (SW) England (Dartmoor National Park). In the period 1879–2012, total precipitation in the upland site increased by more than 10% for spring, autumn, winter, and annually; for the lowland site, only spring experienced a significant increase (8%) in precipitation. Increases in autumn, winter and annual precipitation were recorded at upland sites since the 1960s. We compare observed precipitation trends with the latest UK climate projections (UKCP18) for the region across two timeframes (60 and 90 years). Changes in the 30 year average between reference (1981–2010) and observed and projected precipitation totals were compared and deviations calculated. Comparisons between model projections and observed trends show large deviation for spring, summer and autumn precipitation in the mid to late 21st century, with the deviation greatest in upland localities. Winter projections however, were broadly consistent with observed trends. Results suggest uncertainties in future precipitation change are greatest in the uplands where the impacts on ecosystem services are the largest.