Chronological Development of Terrestrial Mean Precipitation

Park, Kylie J. ; Yoshimura, Kei ; Kim, Hyungjun ; Oki, Taikan

Année de publication
Over 150 years of investigations into global terrestrial precipitation are revisited to reveal how researchers estimated annual means from in situ observations before the age of digitization. After introducing early regional efforts to measure precipitation, the pioneering estimates of terrestrial mean precipitation from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are compared to successive estimates, including those using the latest gridded precipitation datasets available. The investigation reveals that the range of the early estimates is comparable to the interannual variation in terrestrial mean precipitation derived from the latest Climatic Research Unit (CRU) dataset. In-depth revisions of the estimates were infrequent up to the 1970s, due in part to difficulty obtaining and maintaining up-to-date datasets with global coverage. This point is illustrated in a 'family tree' that identifies the key publications that subsequent authors referenced, sometimes decades after the original publication. Significant efforts to collate global observations facilitated new investigations and improved data exchange, for example, in the International Hydrological Decade (1965-74) and following the establishment of the Global Telecommunication System under the World Weather Watch Programme of the World Meteorological Organization. Also in the 1970s were the first attempts to adjust in situ observations on a global scale to account for gauge undercatch, and this had a noticeable impact on mean annual estimates. There remains no single satisfactory approach to gauge bias adjustment. Echoing the repeated message of past researchers, today's authors cite poor spatial coverage, temporal inhomogeneity, and inadequate sharing of in situ observations as the key obstacles to obtaining more accurate estimates of terrestrial mean precipitation.

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