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Keywords:

  • anthropogenic climate change;
  • detection and attribution;
  • global climate models;
  • observations;
  • precipitation

[1] By comparing annual and seasonal changes in precipitation over land and ocean since 1950 simulated by the CMIP5 (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, phase 5) climate models in which natural and anthropogenic forcings have been included, we find that clear global-scale and regional-scale changes due to human influence are expected to have occurred over both land and ocean. These include moistening over northern high latitude land and ocean throughout all seasons and over the northern subtropical oceans during boreal winter. However we show that this signal of human influence is less distinct when considered over the relatively small area of land for which there are adequate observations to make assessments of multi-decadal scale trends. These results imply that extensive and significant changes in precipitation over the land and ocean may have already happened, even though, inadequacies in observations in some parts of the world make it difficult to identify conclusively such a human fingerprint on the global water cycle. In some regions and seasons, due to aliasing of different kinds of variability as a result of sub sampling by the sparse and changing observational coverage, observed trends appear to have been increased, underscoring the difficulties of interpreting the apparent magnitude of observed changes in precipitation.