Characterizing sources of uncertainty from global climate models and downscaling techniques

Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
By: , and 



In recent years climate model experiments have been increasingly oriented towards providing information that can support local and regional adaptation to the expected impacts of anthropogenic climate change. This shift has magnified the importance of downscaling as a means to translate coarse-scale global climate model (GCM) output to a finer scale that more closely matches the scale of interest. Applying this technique, however, introduces a new source of uncertainty into any resulting climate model ensemble. Here we present a method, based on a previously established variance decomposition method, to partition and quantify the uncertainty in climate model ensembles that is attributable to downscaling. We apply the method to the Southeast U.S. using five downscaled datasets that represent both statistical and dynamical downscaling techniques. The combined ensemble is highly fragmented, in that only a small portion of the complete set of downscaled GCMs and emission scenarios are typically available. The results indicate that the uncertainty attributable to downscaling approaches ~20% for large areas of the Southeast U.S. for precipitation and ~30% for extreme heat days (> 35°C) in the Appalachian Mountains. However, attributable quantities are significantly lower for time periods when the full ensemble is considered but only a sub-sample of all models are available, suggesting that overconfidence could be a serious problem in studies that employ a single set of downscaled GCMs. We conclude with recommendations to advance the design of climate model experiments so that the uncertainty that accrues when downscaling is employed is more fully and systematically considered.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Characterizing sources of uncertainty from global climate models and downscaling techniques
Series title Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
DOI 10.1175/JAMC-D-17-0087.1
Volume 56
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher American Meteorological Society
Contributing office(s) Southeast Climate Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 3245
Last page 3262
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