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Publication Date
14 July 2023

Is land use producing robust signals in future projections from Earth system models, all else being equal?



We use six Earth system models (ESMs) run under SSP3-7.0, a scenario characterized by a relatively large land use change (LUC) over the 21st century, and under a variant of the same scenario where a significantly different pattern of LUC, taken from SSP1-2.6, was used, all else being equal. Our goal is to identify changes in climate extremes between the two scenarios that are statistically significant and robust across the ESMs. The motivation for this study is to test a long-held assumption of the shared socio-economic pathway-representative concentration pathway (SSP-RCP) scenario framework: that the signal from LUC can be safely disregarded when pairing different SSPs to the compatible RCPs, where compatibility only considers global radiative forcing, predominantly determined by well-mixed greenhouse gasses emissions. We analyze extremes of daily minimum and maximum temperatures and precipitation, after fitting non-stationary generalized extreme value distributions in a way that borrows strength along the length of the simulation (2015–2100) and across initial condition ensembles. We consider changes in the 20 year return levels (RL20s) of these metrics by 2100, and focus on eight locations where LUC is large within each scenario, and strongly differs between scenarios, averaging the RL20s over a neighborhood characterized by the same LUC to enhance the signal to noise. We find that precipitation extremes do not show significant differences attributable to LUC differences. For temperature extremes (cold and hot) results are mixed, with some location-index combination showing significant results for some of the ESMs but not all, and not many coherent changes appearing for indices across regions, or regions across indices. These ESMs are representative of what is typically adopted as the source of climate information for impact studies, when the SSP-RCP framework is put to use. Overall, our analysis suggests that the hypothesis to pair SSPs to RCPs in a flexible fashion is overall defensible. However, the appearance of some coherence in a few locations and for some indices invites further investigation. 

Tebaldi, Claudia, Michael Wehner, Ruby Leung, and David Lawrence. 2023. “Is Land Use Producing Robust Signals In Future Projections From Earth System Models, All Else Being Equal?”. Environmental Research Letters 18 (8). IOP Publishing: 084009. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/ace3da.
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