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Skill, Correction, and Downscaling of GCM-Simulated Precipitation

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  • 1 School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • | 2 Meteorological Institute, KlimaCampus, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
  • | 3 Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany
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Abstract

The ability of general circulation models (GCMs) to correctly simulate precipitation is usually assessed by comparing simulated mean precipitation with observed climatologies. However, to what extent the skill in simulating average precipitation indicates how well the models represent temporal changes is unclear. A direct assessment of the latter is hampered by the fact that freely evolving climate simulations for past periods are not set up to reproduce the specific evolution of internal atmospheric variability. Therefore, model-to-real-world comparisons of time series of daily, monthly, or annual precipitation are not meaningful. Here, for the first time, the authors quantify GCM skill in simulating precipitation variability using simulations in which the temporal evolution of the large-scale atmospheric state closely matches that of the real world. This is achieved by nudging the atmospheric states in the ECHAM5 GCM, but crucially not the precipitation field itself, toward the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40). Global correlation maps between observed and simulated seasonal precipitation allow areas in which simulated future precipitation changes are likely to be meaningful to be identified. In many areas, correlations higher than 0.8 are found.

This means also that in these regions the simulated precipitation is a very good predictor for the true precipitation, and thus a statistical correction of the simulated precipitation, which can include a downscaling component, can provide useful estimates for local-scale precipitation. The authors show that a simple scaling of the simulated precipitation performs well in a cross validation and thus appears to be a promising alternative to standard statistical downscaling approaches.

Corresponding author address: Jonathan M. Eden, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, United Kingdom. E-mail: j.m.eden@bham.ac.uk

Abstract

The ability of general circulation models (GCMs) to correctly simulate precipitation is usually assessed by comparing simulated mean precipitation with observed climatologies. However, to what extent the skill in simulating average precipitation indicates how well the models represent temporal changes is unclear. A direct assessment of the latter is hampered by the fact that freely evolving climate simulations for past periods are not set up to reproduce the specific evolution of internal atmospheric variability. Therefore, model-to-real-world comparisons of time series of daily, monthly, or annual precipitation are not meaningful. Here, for the first time, the authors quantify GCM skill in simulating precipitation variability using simulations in which the temporal evolution of the large-scale atmospheric state closely matches that of the real world. This is achieved by nudging the atmospheric states in the ECHAM5 GCM, but crucially not the precipitation field itself, toward the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40). Global correlation maps between observed and simulated seasonal precipitation allow areas in which simulated future precipitation changes are likely to be meaningful to be identified. In many areas, correlations higher than 0.8 are found.

This means also that in these regions the simulated precipitation is a very good predictor for the true precipitation, and thus a statistical correction of the simulated precipitation, which can include a downscaling component, can provide useful estimates for local-scale precipitation. The authors show that a simple scaling of the simulated precipitation performs well in a cross validation and thus appears to be a promising alternative to standard statistical downscaling approaches.

Corresponding author address: Jonathan M. Eden, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, United Kingdom. E-mail: j.m.eden@bham.ac.uk
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