AbstractAccurate assessments of future climate impacts require realistic simulation of interannual to century-scale temperature and precipitation variability. Here we use well-constrained paleoclimate data and the latest generation of Earth system model data to evaluate the magnitude and spatial consistency of climate variance distributions across interannual to centennial frequencies. We find that temperature variance generally increases with timescale in patterns that are spatially consistent among models, especially over the mid- and high-latitude oceans. However, precipitation is similar to white noise across much of the globe. We compare Earth system model variance to variance generated by simple autocorrelation. We find that tropical temperature variability in Earth system models is difficult to distinguish from variability generated by simple autocorrelation. By contrast, both forced and unforced Earth system models produce variability distinct from a simple autoregressive process over most high latitude oceans. Our new analysis of tropical paleoclimate records suggests that low-frequency variance dominates the temperature spectrum across the tropical Pacific and Indian oceans, but in many Earth system models, interannual variance dominates the simulated central and eastern tropical Pacific temperature spectrum, regardless of forcing. We also compare tropical Pacific model spectra to spectra from the instrumental record, but the short instrumental record likely cannot provide accurate multidecadal-centennial scale variance estimates. In the coming decades, both forced and natural patterns of decade-century scale variability will determine climate-related risks. Underestimating low-frequency temperature and precipitation variability may significantly alter our understanding of the projections of these climate impacts.
Journal of Climate – American Meteorological Society
Published: Aug 3, 2017
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