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Scott B. Power and François Delage

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Scott B. Power and François P. D. Delage

Abstract

Increases in greenhouse gas emissions are expected to cause changes both in climatic variability in the Pacific linked to El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and in long-term average climate. While mean state and variability changes have been studied separately, much less is known about their combined impact or relative importance. Additionally, studies of projected changes in ENSO have tended to focus on changes in, or adjacent to, the Pacific. Here we examine projected changes in climatic conditions during El Niño years and in ENSO-driven precipitation variability in 36 CMIP5 models. The models are forced according to the RCP8.5 scenario in which there are large, unmitigated increases in greenhouse gas concentrations during the twenty-first century. We examine changes over much of the globe, including 25 widely spread regions defined in the IPCC special report Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX). We confirm that precipitation variability associated with ENSO is projected to increase in the tropical Pacific, consistent with earlier research. We also find that the enhanced tropical Pacific variability drives ENSO-related variability increases in 19 SREX regions during DJF and in 18 during JJA. This externally forced increase in ENSO-driven precipitation variability around the world is on the order of 15%–20%. An increase of this size, although substantial, is easily masked at the regional level by internally generated multidecadal variability in individual runs. The projected changes in El Niño–driven precipitation variability are typically much smaller than projected changes in both mean state and ENSO neutral conditions in nearly all regions.

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Scott B. Power, François Delage, Robert Colman, and Aurel Moise

Abstract

Under global warming, increases in precipitation are expected at high latitudes and near major tropical convergence zones in some seasons, while decreases are expected in many subtropical and midlatitude areas in between. In many other areas there is no consensus among models on the sign of the projected change. This is often assumed to indicate that precipitation projections in these regions are highly uncertain.

Here, twenty-first century precipitation projections under the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) A1B scenario using 24 World Climate Research Programme (WCRP)/Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP3) climate models are examined. In areas with no consensus on the sign of projected change there are extensive subregions where the projected change is “very likely” (i.e., probability > 0.90) to be small (relative to, e.g., the size of interannual variability during the late twentieth century) or zero. The statistical significance of and interrelationships between methods used to identify model consensus on projected change in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report are examined, and the impact of interdependency among model projections on statistical significance is investigated. Interdependency among projections is shown to be much weaker than interdependency among simulations of climatology. The results show that there is more widespread consistency among the model projections than one might infer from the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment report. This discovery highlights the broader need to identify regions, variables, and phenomena that are expected to be little affected by anthropogenic climate change and to communicate this information to the wider community. This is especially important for projections of climate for the next 1–3 decades.

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Sugata Narsey, Josephine R. Brown, Francois Delage, Ghyslaine Boschat, Michael Grose, Rob Colman, and Scott Power

Abstract

The South Pacific convergence zone (SPCZ) is evaluated in simulations of historical climate from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) and phase 6 (CMIP6) models, showing a modest improvement in the simulation of South Pacific precipitation (spatial pattern and mean bias) in CMIP6 models but little change in the overly zonal position of the SPCZ compared with CMIP5 models. A set of models that simulate a reasonable SPCZ are selected from both ensembles, and future projections under high emissions (RCP8.5 and SSP5–8.5) scenarios are examined. The multimodel mean projected change in SPCZ precipitation and position is small, but this multimodel mean response obscures a wide range of future projections from individual models. To investigate the full range of future projections a storyline approach is adopted, focusing on groups of models that simulate a northward-shifted SPCZ, a southward-shifted SPCZ, or little change in SPCZ position. The northward-shifted SPCZ group also exhibit large increases in precipitation in the equatorial Pacific, while the southward-shifted SPCZ group exhibit smaller increases in equatorial precipitation but greater increases within the SPCZ region. A moisture budget decomposition confirms the findings of previous studies: that changes in the mean circulation dynamics are the primary source of uncertainty for projected changes in precipitation in the SPCZ region. While uncertainty remains in SPCZ projections, partly due to uncertain patterns of sea surface temperature change and systematic coupled model biases, it may be worthwhile to consider the range of plausible SPCZ projections captured by this storyline approach for adaptation and planning in the South Pacific region.

Significance Statement

The South Pacific convergence zone is a band of intense rainfall that influences the weather and climate of many Pacific Island communities. Future changes in the SPCZ will therefore impact these communities. We examine climate model representations of future climate to find out how the SPCZ might change in a warmer world. While the models disagree on future changes in the SPCZ, we suggest that it may be useful to consider groups of models with common “storylines” of future change. The changes in the position of the SPCZ in a warmer world correlate strongly to the amount of rainfall change locally. Some models suggest a northward movement of the SPCZ, while others suggest a southward movement. Consideration of the full range of possible future behavior of the SPCZ is needed to better prepare for the impacts of a warmer climate.

Open access
Josephine R. Brown, Scott B. Power, Francois P. Delage, Robert A. Colman, Aurel F. Moise, and Bradley F. Murphy

Abstract

Understanding how the South Pacific convergence zone (SPCZ) may change in the future requires the use of global coupled atmosphere–ocean models. It is therefore important to evaluate the ability of such models to realistically simulate the SPCZ. The simulation of the SPCZ in 24 coupled model simulations of the twentieth century is examined. The models and simulations are those used for the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The seasonal climatology and interannual variability of the SPCZ is evaluated using observed and model precipitation. Twenty models simulate a distinct SPCZ, while four models merge intertropical convergence zone and SPCZ precipitation. The majority of models simulate an SPCZ with an overly zonal orientation, rather than extending in a diagonal band into the southeast Pacific as observed. Two-thirds of models capture the observed meridional displacement of the SPCZ during El Niño and La Niña events. The four models that use ocean heat flux adjustments simulate a better tropical SPCZ pattern because of a better representation of the Pacific sea surface temperature pattern and absence of cold sea surface temperature biases on the equator. However, the flux-adjusted models do not show greater skill in simulating the interannual variability of the SPCZ. While a small subset of models does not adequately reproduce the climatology or variability of the SPCZ, the majority of models are able to capture the main features of SPCZ climatology and variability, and they can therefore be used with some confidence for future climate projections.

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Agus Santoso, Harry Hendon, Andrew Watkins, Scott Power, Dietmar Dommenget, Matthew H. England, Leela Frankcombe, Neil J. Holbrook, Ryan Holmes, Pandora Hope, Eun-Pa Lim, Jing-Jia Luo, Shayne McGregor, Sonja Neske, Hanh Nguyen, Acacia Pepler, Harun Rashid, Alex Sen Gupta, Andréa S. Taschetto, Guomin Wang, Esteban Abellán, Arnold Sullivan, Maurice F. Huguenin, Felicity Gamble, and Francois Delage

Abstract

El Niño and La Niña, the warm and cold phases of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), cause significant year-to-year disruptions in global climate, including in the atmosphere, oceans, and cryosphere. Australia is one of the countries where its climate, including droughts and flooding rains, is highly sensitive to the temporal and spatial variations of ENSO. The dramatic impacts of ENSO on the environment, society, health, and economies worldwide make the application of reliable ENSO predictions a powerful way to manage risks and resources. An improved understanding of ENSO dynamics in a changing climate has the potential to lead to more accurate and reliable ENSO predictions by facilitating improved forecast systems. This motivated an Australian national workshop on ENSO dynamics and prediction that was held in Sydney, Australia, in November 2017. This workshop followed the aftermath of the 2015/16 extreme El Niño, which exhibited different characteristics to previous extreme El Niños and whose early evolution since 2014 was challenging to predict. This essay summarizes the collective workshop perspective on recent progress and challenges in understanding ENSO dynamics and predictability and improving forecast systems. While this essay discusses key issues from an Australian perspective, many of the same issues are important for other ENSO-affected countries and for the international ENSO research community.

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