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An evaluation of atmospheric rivers over the North Pacific in CMIP5 and their response to warming under RCP 8.5

Ashley E. Payne, Gudrun Magnusdottir | November 13th, 2015

Landfalling atmospheric rivers over the North Pacific are evaluated in historical (1980–2005) simulations from 28 models participating in the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) and compared to the Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications and ERA-Interim reanalyses. Landfalling dates are identified as having spatially elongated high wind and moisture features in physical proximity to the coastline. Model performance relative to reanalysis is found to be quite variable. The majority can resolve the spatial structure of landfalling events, but few correctly resolve the frequency distribution, interannual variability in number and amplitude of moisture flux, and median landfalling latitude. The response of a subset of high-performing models to projected warming at the end of the 21st century is investigated using Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 (2070–2100) projections. Selected models show a broadening of the frequency distribution, with the largest increase in frequency occurring equatorward of peak historical frequency. While there is a robust increase in AR-related moisture transport compared to the historical period, this increase is not linked to more extreme AR events within the context of the projected future climate. The occurrence of years with many AR dates is greater at the end of the 21st century than during the historical period. The equatorward increase in peak historical frequency is colocated with increases in the 850 and 250 hPa zonal winds. The response in moisture flux to warming is mostly thermodynamic, but equatorward of its peak distribution, it is dominated by a dynamic response.


atmospheric rivers, climate change, flood management, modeling, water supply forecasting