Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Characterizing sources of uncertainty from global climate models and downscaling techniques

October 25, 2017

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.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Characterizing sources of uncertainty from global climate models and downscaling techniques
DOI 10.1175/JAMC-D-17-0087.1
Authors Adrienne Wootten, Adam Terando, Brian J. Reich, Ryan Boyles, Fred Semazzi
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Index ID 70192058
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southeast Climate Science Center