Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

Tracing the source of numerical climate model uncertainties in precipitation simulations using a feature-oriented statistical model

Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 08:00
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Precipitation is a key component in hydrologic cycles, and changing precipitation regimes contribute to more intense and frequent drought and flood events around the world. Numerical climate modeling is a powerful tool to study climatology and to predict future changes. Despite the continuous improvement in numerical models, long-term precipitation prediction remains a challenge especially at regional scales. To improve numerical simulations of precipitation, it is important to find out where the uncertainty in precipitation simulations comes from.

There are two types of uncertainty in numerical model predictions. One is related to uncertainty in the input data, such as model’s boundary and initial conditions. These uncertainties would propagate to the final model outcomes even if the numerical model has exactly replicated the true world. But a numerical model cannot exactly replicate the true world. Therefore, the other type of model uncertainty is related the errors in the model physics, such as the parameterization of sub-grid scale processes, i.e., given precise input conditions, how much error could be generated by the in-precise model.

Here, we build two statistical models based on a neural network algorithm to predict long-term variation of precipitation over California: one uses “true world” information derived from observations, and the other uses “modeled world” information using model inputs and outputs from the North America Coordinated Regional Downscaling Project (NA CORDEX). We derive multiple climate feature metrics as the predictors for the statistical model to represent the impact of global climate on local hydrology, and include topography as a predictor to represent the local control. We first compare the predictors between the true world and the modeled world to determine the errors contained in the input data. By perturbing the predictors in the statistical model, we estimate how much uncertainty in the model’s final outcomes is accounted for by each predictor. By comparing the statistical model derived from true world information and modeled world information, we assess the errors lying in the physics of the numerical models. This work provides a unique insight to assess the performance of numerical climate models, and can be used to guide improvement of precipitation prediction.

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