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Regional Climate Models Add Value to Global Model Data: A Review and Selected Examples

Frauke FeserInstitute for Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Geesthacht, Germany

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Burkhardt RockelInstitute for Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Geesthacht, Germany

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Hans von StorchInstitute for Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Geesthacht, Germany

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Jörg WinterfeldtGE Wind Energy, Salzbergen, Germany

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Matthias ZahnEnvironmental System Science Center, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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An important challenge in current climate modeling is to realistically describe small-scale weather statistics, such as topographic precipitation and coastal wind patterns, or regional phenomena like polar lows. Global climate models simulate atmospheric processes with increasingly higher resolutions, but still regional climate models have a lot of advantages. They consume less computation time because of their limited simulation area and thereby allow for higher resolution both in time and space as well as for longer integration times. Regional climate models can be used for dynamical down-scaling purposes because their output data can be processed to produce higher resolved atmospheric fields, allowing the representation of small-scale processes and a more detailed description of physiographic details (such as mountain ranges, coastal zones, and details of soil properties).

However, does higher resolution add value when compared to global model results? Most studies implicitly assume that dynamical downscaling leads to output fields that are superior to the driving global data, but little work has been carried out to substantiate these expectations. Here a series of articles is reviewed that evaluate the benefit of dynamical downscaling by explicitly comparing results of global and regional climate model data to the observations. These studies show that the regional climate model generally performs better for the medium spatial scales, but not always for the larger spatial scales.

Regional models can add value, but only for certain variables and locations—particularly those influenced by regional specifics, such as coasts, or mesoscale dynamics, such as polar lows. Therefore, the decision of whether a regional climate model simulation is required depends crucially on the scientific question being addressed.

An important challenge in current climate modeling is to realistically describe small-scale weather statistics, such as topographic precipitation and coastal wind patterns, or regional phenomena like polar lows. Global climate models simulate atmospheric processes with increasingly higher resolutions, but still regional climate models have a lot of advantages. They consume less computation time because of their limited simulation area and thereby allow for higher resolution both in time and space as well as for longer integration times. Regional climate models can be used for dynamical down-scaling purposes because their output data can be processed to produce higher resolved atmospheric fields, allowing the representation of small-scale processes and a more detailed description of physiographic details (such as mountain ranges, coastal zones, and details of soil properties).

However, does higher resolution add value when compared to global model results? Most studies implicitly assume that dynamical downscaling leads to output fields that are superior to the driving global data, but little work has been carried out to substantiate these expectations. Here a series of articles is reviewed that evaluate the benefit of dynamical downscaling by explicitly comparing results of global and regional climate model data to the observations. These studies show that the regional climate model generally performs better for the medium spatial scales, but not always for the larger spatial scales.

Regional models can add value, but only for certain variables and locations—particularly those influenced by regional specifics, such as coasts, or mesoscale dynamics, such as polar lows. Therefore, the decision of whether a regional climate model simulation is required depends crucially on the scientific question being addressed.

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