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Publication Date
6 July 2021

Extreme Metrics and Large Ensembles



We consider the problem of estimating the ensemble sizes required to characterize the forced component and the internal variability of a number of extreme metrics. While we exploit existing large ensembles, our perspective is that of a modeling center wanting to estimate a-priori such sizes on the basis of an existing small ensemble (we assume the availability of only 5 members here). We therefore ask if such small-size ensemble is sufficient to estimate accurately the population variance (i.e., the ensemble internal variability) and then apply a well-established formula that quantifies the expected error in the estimation of the population mean (i.e., the forced component) as a function of the sample size n, here taken to mean the ensemble size. We find that indeed we can anticipate errors in the estimation of the forced component for temperature and precipitation extremes as a function of n by plugging into the formula an estimate of the population variance derived on the basis of 5 members. For a range of spatial and temporal scales, forcing levels (we use simulations under Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5), and two models considered here as our proof of concept, it appears that an ensemble size of 20 or 25 members can provide estimates of the forced component for the extreme metrics considered that remain within small absolute and percentage errors. Additional members beyond 20 or 25 add only marginal precision to the estimate, and this remains true when statistical inference through extreme value analysis is used. We then ask about the ensemble size required to estimate the ensemble variance (a measure of internal variability) along the length of the simulation, and – importantly – about the ensemble size required to detect significant changes in such variance along the simulation with increased external forcings. Using the F-test we find that estimates on the basis of only 5 or 10 ensemble members accurately represent the full ensemble variance even when the analysis is conducted at the grid-point scale. The detection of changes in the variance when comparing different times along the simulation, especially for the precipitation-based metrics, requires larger sizes, but not larger than 15 or 20 members. While we recognize that there will always exist applications and metric definitions requiring larger statistical power and therefore ensemble sizes, our results suggest that for a wide range of analysis targets and scales an effective estimate of both forced component and internal variability can be achieved with sizes below 30 members. This invites consideration of the possibility of exploring additional sources of uncertainty, such as physics parameter settings, when designing ensemble simulations.

Tebaldi, Claudia, Kalyn Dorheim, Michael Wehner, and Ruby Leung. 2021. “Extreme Metrics And Large Ensembles”. doi:10.5194/esd-2021-53.
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