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Australian world first: rainfall-predicting visual atlas

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Australian researchers have created the world's first comprehensive, visual atlas allowing the projection of global rainfall over the next 100 years.

Launched yesterday in Canberra, An Atlas of the Global Water Cycle contains some 300 pages of global maps and tables showing current and projected measures of rainfall, evaporation and runoff.

The atlas was created by researchers at The Australian National University, and is based on 20 computer models that are used by different countries to forecast future water cycles.

While this data has been used in climate change reporting, most notably in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it has never been visualised in the same way and place until now.

"We know that as the world warms there is likely to be more rainfall on a global average basis," said project co-creator Michael Roderick.

"But where is this increased rainfall going to occur, and which areas might get drier? These are simple questions to ask, but it is surprisingly hard for an individual to get an answer, whether they're a farmer, civil engineer, teacher or interested citizen."

Roderick said that for researchers in the field, too, these questions could not be answered with any certainty.

"In fact, until now we've never seen a compilation of the individual rainfall predictions made by all the different climate models," he said.

The new atlas, however, will make all the current and best information on modelling for future rainfall more easily available for everyone.

This will be particularly useful for individuals and communities wanting to make more informed decisions about how to plan for the century to come, Roderick said.

Because each of the climate models take slightly different approaches to forecasting future rainfall patterns, past reporting has usually averaged them out for ease of communication. But for regions where there is little consensus between the different models for what will happen to rainfall - as in Australia - this can be problematic.

"The atlas means that you can now see all the different models' predictions for Australia and the world in detail, and then come to a more informed understanding," said Roderick.

"All these models are like crystal balls for the global water cycle - but it's a question of whose crystal ball is the best and how do we know that? I can't answer that question, but at least by having all the information to compare people will be able to make more informed decisions."

An Atlas of the Global Water Cycle is available to download for free HERE.