08 October 2015

Sensitivity of Regional Climate to Global Temperature and Forcing

Summary

The sensitivity of regional climate to global average radiative forcing and temperature change is important for setting global climate policy targets and designing scenarios. Setting effective policy targets requires an understanding of the consequences exceeding them, even by small amounts, and the effective design of sets of scenarios requires the knowledge of how different emissions, concentrations, or forcing need to be in order to produce substantial differences in climate outcomes. Using an extensive database of climate model simulations, we quantify how differences in global average quantities relate to differences in both the spatial extent and magnitude of climate outcomes at regional (250–1250 km) scales. We show that differences of about 0.3 °C in global average temperature are required to generate statistically significant changes in regional annual average temperature over more than half of the Earth's land surface. A global difference of 0.8 °C is necessary to produce regional warming over half the land surface that is not only significant but reaches at least 1 °C. As much as 2.5 to 3 °C is required for a statistically significant change in regional annual average precipitation that is equally pervasive. Global average temperature change provides a better metric than radiative forcing for indicating differences in regional climate outcomes due to the path dependency of the effects of radiative forcing. For example, a difference in radiative forcing of 0.5 W m−2 can produce statistically significant differences in regional temperature over an area that ranges between 30% and 85% of the land surface, depending on the forcing pathway.

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