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Michael J. Glotter, Elisabeth J. Moyer, Alex C. Ruane, and Joshua W. Elliott

Abstract

Projections of future food production necessarily rely on models, which must themselves be validated through historical assessments comparing modeled and observed yields. Reliable historical validation requires both accurate agricultural models and accurate climate inputs. Problems with either may compromise the validation exercise. Previous studies have compared the effects of different climate inputs on agricultural projections but either incompletely or without a ground truth of observed yields that would allow distinguishing errors due to climate inputs from those intrinsic to the crop model. This study is a systematic evaluation of the reliability of a widely used crop model for simulating U.S. maize yields when driven by multiple observational data products. The parallelized Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (pDSSAT) is driven with climate inputs from multiple sources—reanalysis, reanalysis that is bias corrected with observed climate, and a control dataset—and compared with observed historical yields. The simulations show that model output is more accurate when driven by any observation-based precipitation product than when driven by non-bias-corrected reanalysis. The simulations also suggest, in contrast to previous studies, that biased precipitation distribution is significant for yields only in arid regions. Some issues persist for all choices of climate inputs: crop yields appear to be oversensitive to precipitation fluctuations but undersensitive to floods and heat waves. These results suggest that the most important issue for agricultural projections may be not climate inputs but structural limitations in the crop models themselves.

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Won Chang, Michael L. Stein, Jiali Wang, V. Rao Kotamarthi, and Elisabeth J. Moyer

Abstract

Climate models robustly imply that some significant change in precipitation patterns will occur. Models consistently project that the intensity of individual precipitation events increases by approximately 6%–7% K−1, following the increase in atmospheric water content, but that total precipitation increases by a lesser amount (1%–2% K−1 in the global average in transient runs). Some other aspect of precipitation events must then change to compensate for this difference. The authors develop a new methodology for identifying individual rainstorms and studying their physical characteristics—including starting location, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and trajectory—that allows identifying that compensating mechanism. This technique is applied to precipitation over the contiguous United States from both radar-based data products and high-resolution model runs simulating 80 years of business-as-usual warming. In the model study the dominant compensating mechanism is a reduction of storm size. In summer, rainstorms become more intense but smaller; in winter, rainstorm shrinkage still dominates, but storms also become less numerous and shorter duration. These results imply that flood impacts from climate change will be less severe than would be expected from changes in precipitation intensity alone. However, these projected changes are smaller than model–observation biases, implying that the best means of incorporating them into impact assessments is via “data-driven simulations” that apply model-projected changes to observational data. The authors therefore develop a simulation algorithm that statistically describes model changes in precipitation characteristics and adjusts data accordingly, and they show that, especially for summertime precipitation, it outperforms simulation approaches that do not include spatial information.

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Matz A. Haugen, Michael L. Stein, Elisabeth J. Moyer, and Ryan L. Sriver

Abstract

Understanding future changes in extreme temperature events in a transient climate is inherently challenging. A single model simulation is generally insufficient to characterize the statistical properties of the evolving climate, but ensembles of repeated simulations with different initial conditions greatly expand the amount of data available. We present here a new approach for using ensembles to characterize changes in temperature distributions based on quantile regression that more flexibly characterizes seasonal changes. Specifically, our approach uses a continuous representation of seasonality rather than breaking the dataset into seasonal blocks; that is, we assume that temperature distributions evolve smoothly both day to day over an annual cycle and year to year over longer secular trends. To demonstrate our method’s utility, we analyze an ensemble of 50 simulations of the Community Earth System Model (CESM) under a scenario of increasing radiative forcing to 2100, focusing on North America. As previous studies have found, we see that daily temperature bulk variability generally decreases in wintertime in the continental mid- and high latitudes (>40°). A more subtle result that our approach uncovers is that differences in two low quantiles of wintertime temperatures do not shrink as much as the rest of the temperature distribution, producing a more negative skew in the overall distribution. Although the examples above concern temperature only, the technique is sufficiently general that it can be used to generate precise estimates of distributional changes in a broad range of climate variables by exploiting the power of ensembles.

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Kevin Schwarzwald, Andrew Poppick, Maria Rugenstein, Jonah Bloch-Johnson, Jiali Wang, David McInerney, and Elisabeth J. Moyer

Abstract

Changes in precipitation variability can have large societal consequences, whether at the short timescales of flash floods or the longer timescales of multi-year droughts. Recent studies have suggested that in future climate projections, precipitation variability rises more steeply than does its mean, leading to concerns about societal impacts. This work evaluates changes in mean precipitation over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales using a range of models from high-resolution regional simulations to millennial-scale global simulations. Results show that changes depend on the scale of aggregation and involve strong regional differences. On local scales that resolve individual rainfall events (hours and tens of kilometers), changes in precipitation distributions are complex and variances rise substantially more than means, as is required given the well-known disproportionate rise in precipitation intensity. On scales that aggregate across many events, distributional changes become simpler and variability changes smaller. At regional scale, future precipitation distributions can be largely reproduced by a simple transformation of present-day precipitation involving a multiplicative shift and a small additive term. The “extra” broadening is negatively correlated with changes in mean precipitation: in strongly “wetting” areas, distributions broaden less than expected from a simple multiplicative mean change; in “drying” areas, distributions narrow less. Precipitation variability changes are therefore of especial concern in the subtropics, which tend to dry under climate change. Outside the tropics, variability changes are similar on timescales from days to decades, i.e. show little frequency dependence. This behavior is highly robust across models, suggesting it may stem from some fundamental constraint.

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Stefano Castruccio, David J. McInerney, Michael L. Stein, Feifei Liu Crouch, Robert L. Jacob, and Elisabeth J. Moyer

Abstract

The authors describe a new approach for emulating the output of a fully coupled climate model under arbitrary forcing scenarios that is based on a small set of precomputed runs from the model. Temperature and precipitation are expressed as simple functions of the past trajectory of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and a statistical model is fit using a limited set of training runs. The approach is demonstrated to be a useful and computationally efficient alternative to pattern scaling and captures the nonlinear evolution of spatial patterns of climate anomalies inherent in transient climates. The approach does as well as pattern scaling in all circumstances and substantially better in many; it is not computationally demanding; and, once the statistical model is fit, it produces emulated climate output effectively instantaneously. It may therefore find wide application in climate impacts assessments and other policy analyses requiring rapid climate projections.

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