IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Monsoons

In the tropics, an increase in precipitation is projected by the end of the 21st century in the Asian monsoon and the southern part of the West African monsoon with some decreases in the Sahel in northern summer (Cook and Vizy, 2006), as well as increases in the Australian monsoon in southern summer in a warmer climate (Figure 10.9). The monsoonal precipitation in Mexico and Central America is projected to decrease in association with increasing precipitation over the eastern equatorial Pacific that affects Walker Circulation and local Hadley Circulation changes (Figure 10.9). A more detailed assessment of regional monsoon changes is provided in Chapter 11.

As a projected global warming will be more rapid over land than over the oceans, the continental-scale land-sea thermal contrast will become larger in summer and smaller in winter. Based on this, a simple idea is that the summer monsoon will be stronger and the winter monsoon will be weaker in the future than the present. However, model results are not as straightforward as this simple consideration. Tanaka et al. (2005) define the intensities of Hadley, Walker and monsoon circulations using the velocity potential fields at 200 hPa. Using 15 AOGCMs, they show a weakening of these tropical circulations by 9%, 8% and 14%, respectively, by the late 21st century compared to the late 20th century. Using eight AOGCMs, Ueda et al. (2006) demonstrate that pronounced warming over the tropics results in a weakening of the Asian summer monsoon circulations in relation to a reduction in the meridional thermal gradients between the Asian continent and adjacent oceans.

Despite weakening of the dynamical monsoon circulation, atmospheric moisture buildup due to increased greenhouse gases and consequent temperature increase results in a larger moisture flux and more precipitation for the Indian monsoon (Douville et al., 2000; IPCC, 2001; Ashrit et al., 2003; Meehl and Arblaster, 2003; May, 2004; Ashrit et al., 2005). For the South Asian summer monsoon, models suggest a northward shift of lower-tropospheric monsoon wind systems with a weakening of the westerly flow over the northern Indian Ocean (Ashrit et al., 2003, 2005). Over Africa in northern summer, multi-model analysis projects an increase in rainfall in East and Central Africa, a decrease in the Sahel, and increases along the Gulf of Guinea coast (Figure 10.9). However, some individual models project an increase of rainfall in more extensive areas of West Africa related to a projected northward movement of the Sahara and the Sahel (Liu et al., 2002; Haarsma et al., 2005). Whether the Sahel will be more or less wet in the future is thus uncertain, although a multi-model assessment of the West African monsoon indicates that the Sahel could become marginally more dry (Cook and Vizy, 2006). This inconsistency of the rainfall projections may be related to AOGCM biases, or an unclear relationship between Gulf of Guinea and Indian Ocean warming, land use change and the West African monsoon. Nonlinear feedbacks that may exist within the West African climate system should also be considered (Jenkins et al., 2005).

Most model results project increased interannual variability in season-averaged Asian monsoon precipitation associated with an increase in its long-term mean value (e.g., Hu et al., 2000b; Räisänen, 2002; Meehl and Arblaster, 2003). Hu et al. (2000a) relate this to increased variability in the tropical Pacific SST (El Niño variability) in their model. Meehl and Arblaster (2003) relate the increased monsoon precipitation variability to increased variability in evaporation and precipitation in the Pacific due to increased SSTs. Thus, the South Asian monsoon variability is affected through the Walker Circulation such that the role of the Pacific Ocean dominates and that of the Indian Ocean is secondary.

Atmospheric aerosol loading affects regional climate and its future changes (see Chapter 7). If the direct effect of the aerosol increase is considered, surface temperatures will not get as warm because the aerosols reflect solar radiation. For this reason, land-sea temperature contrast becomes smaller than in the case without the direct aerosol effect, and the summer monsoon becomes weaker. Model simulations of the Asian monsoon project that the sulphate aerosols’ direct effect reduces the magnitude of precipitation change compared with the case of only greenhouse gas increases (Emori et al., 1999; Roeckner et al., 1999; Lal and Singh, 2001). However, the relative cooling effect of sulphate aerosols is dominated by the effects of increasing greenhouse gases by the end of the 21st century in the SRES marker scenarios (Figure 10.26), leading to the increased monsoon precipitation at the end of the 21st century in these scenarios (see Section Furthermore, it is suggested that aerosols with high absorptivity such as black carbon absorb solar radiation in the lower atmosphere, cool the surface, stabilise the atmosphere and reduce precipitation (Ramanathan et al., 2001). The solar radiation reaching the surface decreases as much as 50% locally, which could reduce the surface warming by greenhouse gases (Ramanathan et al., 2005). These atmospheric brown clouds could cause precipitation to increase over the Indian Ocean in winter and decrease in the surrounding Indonesia region and the western Pacific Ocean (Chung et al., 2002), and could reduce the summer monsoon precipitation in South and East Asia (Menon et al., 2002; Ramanathan et al., 2005). However, the total influence on monsoon precipitation of temporally varying direct and indirect effects of various aerosol species is still not resolved and the subject of active research.