Global climate models (GCM) are fundamental tools for weather forecasting and climate predictions at different time scales, from intraseasonal prediction to climate change projections. Their design allows GCMs to simulate the global climate adequately, but they are not able to skillfully simulate local/regional climates. Consequently, downscaling and bias correction methods are increasingly needed and applied for generating useful local and regional climate information from the coarse GCM resolution. Empirical-statistical downscaling (ESD) methods generate climate information at the local scale or with a greater resolution than that achieved by GCM by means of empirical or statistical relationships between large-scale atmospheric variables and the local observed climate. As a counterpart approach, dynamical downscaling is based on regional climate models that simulate regional climate processes with a greater spatial resolution, using GCM fields as initial or boundary conditions. Various ESD methods can be classified according to different criteria, depending on their approach, implementation, and application. In general terms, ESD methods can be categorized into subgroups that include transfer functions or regression models (either linear or nonlinear), weather generators, and weather typing methods and analogs. Although these methods can be grouped into different categories, they can also be combined to generate more sophisticated downscaling methods. In the last group, weather typing and analogs, the methods relate the occurrence of particular weather classes to local and regional weather conditions. In particular, the analog method is based on finding atmospheric states in the historical record that are similar to the atmospheric state on a given target day. Then, the corresponding historical local weather conditions are used to estimate local weather conditions on the target day. The analog method is a relatively simple technique that has been extensively used as a benchmark method in statistical downscaling applications. Of easy construction and applicability to any predictand variable, it has shown to perform as well as other more sophisticated methods. These attributes have inspired its application in diverse studies around the world that explore its ability to simulate different characteristics of regional climates.
María Laura Bettolli
Dynamical downscaling has been used for about 30 years to produce high-resolution climate information for studies of regional climate processes and for the production of climate information usable for vulnerability, impact assessment and adaptation studies. Three dynamical downscaling tools are available in the literature: high-resolution global atmospheric models (HIRGCMs), variable resolution global atmospheric models (VARGCMs), and regional climate models (RCMs). These techniques share their basic principles, but have different underlying assumptions, advantages and limitations. They have undergone a tremendous growth in the last decades, especially RCMs, to the point that they are considered fundamental tools in climate change research. Major intercomparison programs have been implemented over the years, culminating in the Coordinated Regional climate Downscaling EXperiment (CORDEX), an international program aimed at producing fine scale regional climate information based on multi-model and multi-technique approaches. These intercomparison projects have lead to an increasing understanding of fundamental issues in climate downscaling and in the potential of downscaling techniques to provide actionable climate change information. Yet some open issues remain, most notably that of the added value of downscaling, which are the focus of substantial current research. One of the primary future directions in dynamical downscaling is the development of fully coupled regional earth system models including multiple components, such as the atmosphere, the oceans, the biosphere and the chemosphere. Within this context, dynamical downscaling models offer optimal testbeds to incorporate the human component in a fully interactive way. Another main future research direction is the transition to models running at convection-permitting scales, order of 1–3 km, for climate applications. This is a major modeling step which will require substantial development in research and infrastructure, and will allow the description of local scale processes and phenomena within the climate change context. Especially in view of these future directions, climate downscaling will increasingly constitute a fundamental interface between the climate modeling and end-user communities in support of climate service activities.