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The advent of meteorological satellites during the 1970s made possible the observation of the seasonally shifting patterns of global precipitation. It was not until recently, however, that the record could be considered long enough to investigate longer-term trends and the relationship between global precipitation and global warming. Using data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) instrument, Wentz et al. [2007] reported that global mean precipitation increased at a rate of 7.4±2.6% per °C between 1987 and 2006.

Meanwhile, general circulation models (GCMs) used to predict climate change simulate twentieth- and 21st-century mean precipitation increases of about 13% per °C [Held and Soden, 2006]. This difference seems surprising because some GCMs can adequately reproduce the much longer twentieth- century surface-based land-mean precipitation record [Lambert et al., 2005]. Global precipitation changes are tied to the surface energy budget through evaporation and to the tropospheric energy budget through condensation. Thus, if GCMs do underestimate global precipitation changes, the simulation of other climate variables will be affected.