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Publication Date
1 September 2016

Uncertainties in Projecting Future Changes in Atmospheric Rivers and Their Impacts on Heavy Precipitation over Europe



This study investigates the North Atlantic atmospheric rivers (ARs) making landfall over western Europe in the present and future climate from the multimodel ensemble of phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). Overall, CMIP5 captures the seasonal and spatial variations of historical landfalling AR days, with the large intermodel variability strongly correlated with the intermodel spread of historical near-surface westerly jet position. Under representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5), AR frequency is projected to increase significantly by the end of this century, with 127%–275% increase at peak AR frequency regions (45°–55°N). While thermodynamics plays a dominant role in the future increase of ARs, wind changes associated with the midlatitude jet shifts also significantly contribute to AR changes, resulting in dipole change patterns in all seasons. In the North Atlantic, the model-projected jet shifts are strongly correlated with the simulated historical jet position. As models exhibit predominantly equatorward biases in the historical jet position, the large poleward jet shifts reduce AR days south of the historical mean jet position through the dynamical connections between the jet positions and AR days. Using the observed historical jet position as an emergent constraint, dynamical effects further increase future AR days over the equatorward flank above the increases from thermodynamical effects. Compared to the present, both total and extreme precipitation induced by ARs in the future contribute more to the seasonal mean and extreme precipitation, primarily because of the increase in AR frequency. While AR precipitation intensity generally increases more relative to the increase in integrated vapor transport, AR extreme precipitation intensity increases much less.

“Uncertainties In Projecting Future Changes In Atmospheric Rivers And Their Impacts On Heavy Precipitation Over Europe”. 2016. Journal Of Climate 29: 6711-6726. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0088.1.
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