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Jeanne M. Thibeault and Anji Seth

Abstract

Future projections of northeastern North American warm-season precipitation [June–August (JJA)] indicate substantial uncertainty. Atmospheric processes important to the northeast-region JJA precipitation are identified and a first evaluation of the ability of five phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) models to simulate these processes is performed. In this case study, the authors develop a set of process-based analyses forming a framework for evaluating model credibility in the northeast region. This framework includes evaluation of models’ ability to simulate observed spatial patterns and amounts of mean precipitation; dynamical atmospheric circulation features, moisture transport, and moisture divergence important to interannual precipitation variability; long-term trends; and SST patterns important to northeast-region summer precipitation.Wet summers in the northeast region are associated with 1) negative 500-hPa geopotential height anomalies centered near the Great Lakes; 2) positive 500-hPa geopotential height anomalies over the western Atlantic east of the Mid-Atlantic states; 3) northeastward moisture flow and increased moisture convergence along the Eastern Seaboard; 4) increased moisture divergence off the U.S. Southeast coast; and 5) positive sea level pressure (SLP) anomalies in the western Atlantic, possibly related to cold tropical Atlantic SSTs and southwest ridging of the North Atlantic anticyclone. Models are generally able to simulate these features but vary compared to observations. Models capture regional moisture transport and convergence anomalies associated with wet summers reasonably well, despite errors in simulating the climatology. Identifying sources of intermodel differences in future projections is important, determining processes relevant for model credibility. In particular, changes in moisture divergence control the sign of northeast-region summer precipitation changes, making it a critical component of process-level analyses for the region.

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Eric D. Maloney, Suzana J. Camargo, Edmund Chang, Brian Colle, Rong Fu, Kerrie L. Geil, Qi Hu, Xianan Jiang, Nathaniel Johnson, Kristopher B. Karnauskas, James Kinter, Benjamin Kirtman, Sanjiv Kumar, Baird Langenbrunner, Kelly Lombardo, Lindsey N. Long, Annarita Mariotti, Joyce E. Meyerson, Kingtse C. Mo, J. David Neelin, Zaitao Pan, Richard Seager, Yolande Serra, Anji Seth, Justin Sheffield, Julienne Stroeve, Jeanne Thibeault, Shang-Ping Xie, Chunzai Wang, Bruce Wyman, and Ming Zhao

Abstract

In part III of a three-part study on North American climate in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) models, the authors examine projections of twenty-first-century climate in the representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) emission experiments. This paper summarizes and synthesizes results from several coordinated studies by the authors. Aspects of North American climate change that are examined include changes in continental-scale temperature and the hydrologic cycle, extremes events, and storm tracks, as well as regional manifestations of these climate variables. The authors also examine changes in the eastern North Pacific and North Atlantic tropical cyclone activity and North American intraseasonal to decadal variability, including changes in teleconnections to other regions of the globe. Projected changes are generally consistent with those previously published for CMIP3, although CMIP5 model projections differ importantly from those of CMIP3 in some aspects, including CMIP5 model agreement on increased central California precipitation. The paper also highlights uncertainties and limitations based on current results as priorities for further research. Although many projected changes in North American climate are consistent across CMIP5 models, substantial intermodel disagreement exists in other aspects. Areas of disagreement include projections of changes in snow water equivalent on a regional basis, summer Arctic sea ice extent, the magnitude and sign of regional precipitation changes, extreme heat events across the northern United States, and Atlantic and east Pacific tropical cyclone activity.

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Justin Sheffield, Andrew P. Barrett, Brian Colle, D. Nelun Fernando, Rong Fu, Kerrie L. Geil, Qi Hu, Jim Kinter, Sanjiv Kumar, Baird Langenbrunner, Kelly Lombardo, Lindsey N. Long, Eric Maloney, Annarita Mariotti, Joyce E. Meyerson, Kingtse C. Mo, J. David Neelin, Sumant Nigam, Zaitao Pan, Tong Ren, Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas, Yolande L. Serra, Anji Seth, Jeanne M. Thibeault, Julienne C. Stroeve, Ze Yang, and Lei Yin

Abstract

This is the first part of a three-part paper on North American climate in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) that evaluates the historical simulations of continental and regional climatology with a focus on a core set of 17 models. The authors evaluate the models for a set of basic surface climate and hydrological variables and their extremes for the continent. This is supplemented by evaluations for selected regional climate processes relevant to North American climate, including cool season western Atlantic cyclones, the North American monsoon, the U.S. Great Plains low-level jet, and Arctic sea ice. In general, the multimodel ensemble mean represents the observed spatial patterns of basic climate and hydrological variables but with large variability across models and regions in the magnitude and sign of errors. No single model stands out as being particularly better or worse across all analyses, although some models consistently outperform the others for certain variables across most regions and seasons and higher-resolution models tend to perform better for regional processes. The CMIP5 multimodel ensemble shows a slight improvement relative to CMIP3 models in representing basic climate variables, in terms of the mean and spread, although performance has decreased for some models. Improvements in CMIP5 model performance are noticeable for some regional climate processes analyzed, such as the timing of the North American monsoon. The results of this paper have implications for the robustness of future projections of climate and its associated impacts, which are examined in the third part of the paper.

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