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Climate change implications for tropical islands: Interpolating and interpreting statistically downscaled GCM projections for management and planning

February 3, 2016

The potential ecological and economic effects of climate change for tropical islands were studied using output from 12 statistically downscaled general circulation models (GCMs) taking Puerto Rico as a test case. Two model selection/model averaging strategies were used: the average of all available GCMs and the average of the models that are able to reproduce the observed large-scale dynamics that control precipitation over the Caribbean. Five island-wide and multidecadal averages of daily precipitation and temperature were estimated by way of a climatology-informed interpolation of the site-specific downscaled climate model output. Annual cooling degree-days (CDD) were calculated as a proxy index for air-conditioning energy demand, and two measures of annual no-rainfall days were used as drought indices. Holdridge life zone classification was used to map the possible ecological effects of climate change. Precipitation is predicted to decline in both model ensembles, but the decrease was more severe in the “regionally consistent” models. The precipitation declines cause gradual and linear increases in drought intensity and extremes. The warming from the 1960–90 period to the 2071–99 period was 4.6°–9°C depending on the global emission scenarios and location. This warming may cause increases in CDD, and consequently increasing energy demands. Life zones may shift from wetter to drier zones with the possibility of losing most, if not all, of the subtropical rain forests and extinction risks to rain forest specialists or obligates.

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