What are the local consequences of a global climate change? This question is important for proper handling of risks associated with weather and climate. It also tacitly assumes that there is a systematic link between conditions taking place on a global scale and local effects. It is the utilization of the dependency of local climate on the global picture that is the backbone of downscaling; however, it is perhaps easiest to explain the concept of downscaling in climate research if we start asking why it is necessary. Global climate models are our best tools for computing future temperature, wind, and precipitation (or other climatological variables), but their limitations do not let them calculate local details for these quantities. It is simply not adequate to interpolate from model results. However, the models are able to predict large-scale features, such as circulation patterns, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and the global mean temperature. The local temperature and precipitation are nevertheless related to conditions taking place over a larger surrounding region as well as local geographical features (also true, in general, for variables connected to weather/climate). This, of course, also applies to other weather elements. Downscaling makes use of systematic dependencies between local conditions and large-scale ambient phenomena in addition to including information about the effect of the local geography on the local climate. The application of downscaling can involve several different approaches. This article will discuss various downscaling strategies and methods and will elaborate on their rationale, assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses. One important issue is the presence of spontaneous natural year-to-year variations that are not necessarily directly related to the global state, but are internally generated and superimposed on the long-term climate change. These variations typically involve phenomena such as ENSO, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and the Southeast Asian monsoon, which are nonlinear and non-deterministic. We cannot predict the exact evolution of non-deterministic natural variations beyond a short time horizon. It is possible nevertheless to estimate probabilities for their future state based, for instance, on projections with models run many times with slightly different set-up, and thereby to get some information about the likelihood of future outcomes. When it comes to downscaling and predicting regional and local climate, it is important to use many global climate model predictions. Another important point is to apply proper validation to make sure the models give skillful predictions. For some downscaling approaches such as regional climate models, there usually is a need for bias adjustment due to model imperfections. This means the downscaling doesn’t get the right answer for the right reason. Some of the explanations for the presence of biases in the results may be different parameterization schemes in the driving global and the nested regional models. A final underlying question is: What can we learn from downscaling? The context for the analysis is important, as downscaling is often used to find answers to some (implicit) question and can be a means of extracting most of the relevant information concerning the local climate. It is also important to include discussions about uncertainty, model skill or shortcomings, model validation, and skill scores.
Ole Bøssing Christensen and Erik Kjellström
The ecosystems and the societies of the Baltic Sea region are quite sensitive to fluctuations in climate, and therefore it is expected that anthropogenic climate change will affect the region considerably. With numerical climate models, a large amount of projections of meteorological variables affected by anthropogenic climate change have been performed in the Baltic Sea region for periods reaching the end of this century. Existing global and regional climate model studies suggest that: • The future Baltic climate will get warmer, mostly so in winter. Changes increase with time or increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. There is a large spread between different models, but they all project warming. In the northern part of the region, temperature change will be higher than the global average warming. • Daily minimum temperatures will increase more than average temperature, particularly in winter. • Future average precipitation amounts will be larger than today. The relative increase is largest in winter. In summer, increases in the far north and decreases in the south are seen in most simulations. In the intermediate region, the sign of change is uncertain. • Precipitation extremes are expected to increase, though with a higher degree of uncertainty in magnitude compared to projected changes in temperature extremes. • Future changes in wind speed are highly dependent on changes in the large-scale circulation simulated by global climate models (GCMs). The results do not all agree, and it is not possible to assess whether there will be a general increase or decrease in wind speed in the future. • Only very small high-altitude mountain areas in a few simulations are projected to experience a reduction in winter snow amount of less than 50%. The southern half of the Baltic Sea region is projected to experience significant reductions in snow amount, with median reductions of around 75%.
Erik Kjellström and Ole Bøssing Christensen
Regional climate models (RCMs) are commonly used to provide detailed regional to local information for climate change assessments, impact studies, and work on climate change adaptation. The Baltic Sea region is well suited for RCM evaluation due to its complexity and good availability of observations. Evaluation of RCM performance over the Baltic Sea region suggests that: • Given appropriate boundary conditions, RCMs can reproduce many aspects of the climate in the Baltic Sea region. • High resolution improves the ability of RCMs to simulate significant processes in a realistic way. • When forced by global climate models (GCMs) with errors in their representation of the large-scale atmospheric circulation and/or sea surface conditions, performance of RCMs deteriorates. • Compared to GCMs, RCMs can add value on the regional scale, related to both the atmosphere and other parts of the climate system, such as the Baltic Sea, if appropriate coupled regional model systems are used. Future directions for regional climate modeling in the Baltic Sea region would involve testing and applying even more high-resolution, convection permitting, models to generally better represent climate features like heavy precipitation extremes. Also, phenomena more specific to the Baltic Sea region are expected to benefit from higher resolution (these include, for example, convective snowbands over the sea in winter). Continued work on better describing the fully coupled regional climate system involving the atmosphere and its interaction with the sea surface and land areas is also foreseen as beneficial. In this respect, atmospheric aerosols are important components that deserve more attention.
Fedor Mesinger, Miodrag Rančić, and R. James Purser
The astonishing development of computer technology since the mid-20th century has been accompanied by a corresponding proliferation in the numerical methods that have been developed to improve the simulation of atmospheric flows. This article reviews some of the numerical developments concern the ongoing improvements of weather forecasting and climate simulation models. Early computers were single-processor machines with severely limited memory capacity and computational speed, requiring simplified representations of the atmospheric equations and low resolution. As the hardware evolved and memory and speed increased, it became feasible to accommodate more complete representations of the dynamic and physical atmospheric processes. These more faithful representations of the so-called primitive equations included dynamic modes that are not necessarily of meteorological significance, which in turn led to additional computational challenges. Understanding which problems required attention and how they should be addressed was not a straightforward and unique process, and it resulted in the variety of approaches that are summarized in this article. At about the turn of the century, the most dramatic developments in hardware were the inauguration of the era of massively parallel computers, together with the vast increase in the amount of rapidly accessible memory that the new architectures provided. These advances and opportunities have demanded a thorough reassessment of the numerical methods that are most successfully adapted to this new computational environment. This article combines a survey of the important historical landmarks together with a somewhat speculative review of methods that, at the time of writing, seem to hold out the promise of further advancing the art and science of atmospheric numerical modeling.
Shuiqing Yin and Deliang Chen
Weather generators (WGs) are stochastic models that can generate synthetic climate time series of unlimited length and having statistical properties similar to those of observed time series for a location or an area. WGs can infill missing data, extend the length of climate time series, and generate meteorological conditions for unobserved locations. Since the 1990s WGs have become an important spatial-temporal statistical downscaling methodology and have been playing an increasingly important role in climate-change impact assessment. Although the majority of the existing WGs have focused on simulation of precipitation for a single site, more and more WGs considering correlations among multiple sites, and multiple variables, including precipitation and nonprecipitation variables such as temperature, solar radiation, wind, humidity, and cloud cover have been developed for daily and sub-daily scales. Various parametric, semi-parametric and nonparametric WGs have shown the ability to represent the mean, variance, and autocorrelation characteristics of climate variables at different scales. Two main methodologies including change factor and conditional WGs on large-scale dynamical and thermal dynamical weather states have been developed for applications under a changing climate. However, rationality and validity of assumptions underlining both methodologies need to be carefully checked before they can be used to project future climate change at local scale. Further, simulation of extreme values by the existing WGs needs to be further improved. WGs assimilating multisource observations from ground observations, reanalysis, satellite remote sensing, and weather radar for the continuous simulation of two-dimensional climate fields based on the mixed physics-based and stochastic approaches deserve further efforts. An inter-comparison project on a large ensemble of WG methods may be helpful for the improvement of WGs. Due to the applied nature of WGs, their future development also requires inputs from decision-makers and other relevant stakeholders.
Global climate models are our main tool to generate quantitative climate projections, but these models do not resolve the effects of complex topography, regional scale atmospheric processes and small-scale extreme events. To understand potential regional climatic changes, and to provide information for regional-scale impact modeling and adaptation planning, downscaling approaches have been developed. Regional climate change modeling, even though it is still a matter of basic research and questioned by many researchers, is urged to provide operational results. One major downscaling class is statistical downscaling, which exploits empirical relationships between larger-scale and local weather. The main statistical downscaling approaches are perfect prog (often referred to as empirical statistical downscaling), model output statistics (which is typically some sort of bias correction), and weather generators. Statistical downscaling complements or adds to dynamical downscaling and is useful to generate user-tailored local-scale information, or to efficiently generate regional scale information about mean climatic changes from large global climate model ensembles. Further research is needed to assess to what extent the assumptions underlying statistical downscaling are met in typical applications, and to develop new methods for generating spatially coherent projections, and for including process-understanding in bias correction. The increasing resolution of global climate models will improve the representation of downscaling predictors and will, therefore, make downscaling an even more feasible approach that will still be required to tailor information for users.
S.C. Pryor and A.N. Hahmann
Winds within the atmospheric boundary layer (i.e., near to Earth’s surface) vary across a range of scales from a few meters and sub-second timescales (i.e., the scales of turbulent motions) to extremely large and long-period phenomena (i.e., the primary circulation patterns of the global atmosphere). Winds redistribute momentum and heat, and short- and long-term predictions of wind characteristics have applications to a number of socioeconomic sectors (e.g., engineering infrastructure). Despite its importance, atmospheric flow (i.e., wind) has been subject to less research within the climate downscaling community than variables such as air temperature and precipitation. However, there is a growing comprehension that wind storms are the single biggest source of “weather-related” insurance losses in Europe and North America in the contemporary climate, and that possible changes in wind regimes and intense wind events as a result of global climate non-stationarity are of importance to a variety of potential climate change feedbacks (e.g., emission of sea spray into the atmosphere), ecological impacts (such as wind throw of trees), and a number of other socioeconomic sectors (e.g., transportation infrastructure and operation, electricity generation and distribution, and structural design codes for buildings). There are a number of specific challenges inherent in downscaling wind including, but not limited to, the fact that it has both magnitude (wind speed) and orientation (wind direction). Further, for most applications, it is necessary to accurately downscale the full probability distribution of values at short timescales (e.g., hourly), including extremes, while the mean wind speed averaged over a month or year is of little utility. Dynamical, statistical, and hybrid approaches have been developed to downscale different aspects of the wind climate, but have large uncertainties in terms of high-impact aspects of the wind (e.g., extreme wind speeds and gusts). The wind energy industry is a key application for right-scaled wind parameters and has been a major driver of new techniques to increase fidelity. Many opportunities remain to refine existing downscaling methods, to develop new approaches to improve the skill with which the spatiotemporal scales of wind variability are represented, and for new approaches to evaluate skill in the context of wind climates.
H.E. Markus Meier and Sofia Saraiva
In this article, the concepts and background of regional climate modeling of the future Baltic Sea are summarized and state-of-the-art projections, climate change impact studies, and challenges are discussed. The focus is on projected oceanographic changes in future climate. However, as these changes may have a significant impact on biogeochemical cycling, nutrient load scenario simulations in future climates are briefly discussed as well. The Baltic Sea is special compared to other coastal seas as it is a tideless, semi-enclosed sea with large freshwater and nutrient supply from a partly heavily populated catchment area and a long response time of about 30 years, and as it is, in the early 21st century, warming faster than any other coastal sea in the world. Hence, policymakers request the development of nutrient load abatement strategies in future climate. For this purpose, large ensembles of coupled climate–environmental scenario simulations based upon high-resolution circulation models were developed to estimate changes in water temperature, salinity, sea-ice cover, sea level, oxygen, nutrient, and phytoplankton concentrations, and water transparency, together with uncertainty ranges. Uncertainties in scenario simulations of the Baltic Sea are considerable. Sources of uncertainties are global and regional climate model biases, natural variability, and unknown greenhouse gas emission and nutrient load scenarios. Unknown early 21st-century and future bioavailable nutrient loads from land and atmosphere and the experimental setup of the dynamical downscaling technique are perhaps the largest sources of uncertainties for marine biogeochemistry projections. The high uncertainties might potentially be reducible through investments in new multi-model ensemble simulations that are built on better experimental setups, improved models, and more plausible nutrient loads. The development of community models for the Baltic Sea region with improved performance and common coordinated experiments of scenario simulations is recommended.
William Joseph Gutowski and Filippo Giorgi
Regional climate downscaling has been motivated by the objective to understand how climate processes not resolved by global models can influence the evolution of a region’s climate and by the need to provide climate change information to other sectors, such as water resources, agriculture, and human health, on scales poorly resolved by global models but where impacts are felt. There are four primary approaches to regional downscaling: regional climate models (RCMs), empirical statistical downscaling (ESD), variable resolution global models (VARGCM), and “time-slice” simulations with high-resolution global atmospheric models (HIRGCM). Downscaling using RCMs is often referred to as dynamical downscaling to contrast it with statistical downscaling. Although there have been efforts to coordinate each of these approaches, the predominant effort to coordinate regional downscaling activities has involved RCMs. Initially, downscaling activities were directed toward specific, individual projects. Typically, there was little similarity between these projects in terms of focus region, resolution, time period, boundary conditions, and phenomena of interest. The lack of coordination hindered evaluation of downscaling methods, because sources of success or problems in downscaling could be specific to model formulation, phenomena studied, or the method itself. This prompted the organization of the first dynamical-downscaling intercomparison projects in the 1990s and early 2000s. These programs and several others following provided coordination focused on an individual region and an opportunity to understand sources of differences between downscaling models while overall illustrating the capabilities of dynamical downscaling for representing climatologically important regional phenomena. However, coordination between programs was limited. Recognition of the need for further coordination led to the formation of the Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) under the auspices of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). Initial CORDEX efforts focused on establishing and performing a common framework for carrying out dynamically downscaled simulations over multiple regions around the world. This framework has now become an organizing structure for downscaling activities around the world. Further efforts under the CORDEX program have strengthened the program’s scientific motivations, such as assessing added value in downscaling, regional human influences on climate, coupled ocean–land–atmosphere modeling, precipitation systems, extreme events, and local wind systems. In addition, CORDEX is promoting expanded efforts to compare capabilities of all downscaling methods for producing regional information. The efforts are motivated in part by the scientific goal to understand thoroughly regional climate and its change and by the growing need for climate information to assist climate services for a multitude of climate-impacted sectors.
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.