The dependence of wintertime Mediterranean precipitation on the atmospheric circulation response to climate change
Zappa, G., Hoskins, B. J. and Shepherd, T. G. (2015) The dependence of wintertime Mediterranean precipitation on the atmospheric circulation response to climate change. Environmental Research Letters, 10 (10). 104012. ISSN 1748-9326
To link to this item DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/10/104012
Climate models indicate a future wintertime precipitation reduction in the Mediterranean region but there is large uncertainty in the amplitude of the projected change. We analyse CMIP5 climate model output to quantify the role of atmospheric circulation in the Mediterranean precipitation change. It is found that a simple circulation index, i.e. the 850 hPa zonal wind (U850) in North Africa, well describes the year to year fluctuations in the area-averaged Mediterranean precipitation, with positive (i.e. westerly) U850 anomalies in North Africa being associated with positive precipitation anomalies. Under climate change, U850 in North Africa and the Mediterranean precipitation are both projected to decrease consistently with the relationship found in the inter-annual variability. This enables us to estimate that about 85% of the CMIP5 mean precipitation response and 80% of the variance in the inter-model spread are related to changes in the atmospheric circulation. In contrast, there is no significant correlation between the mean precipitation response and the global-mean surface warming across the models. It follows that the uncertainty in cold-season Mediterranean precipitation projection will not be narrowed unless the uncertainty in the atmospheric circulation response is reduced.