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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 9, issue 3 | Copyright
Earth Syst. Dynam., 9, 1107-1125, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 30 Aug 2018

Research article | 30 Aug 2018

Varying soil moisture–atmosphere feedbacks explain divergent temperature extremes and precipitation projections in central Europe

Martha M. Vogel, Jakob Zscheischler, and Sonia I. Seneviratne Martha M. Vogel et al.
  • Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. The frequency and intensity of climate extremes is expected to increase in many regions due to anthropogenic climate change. In central Europe extreme temperatures are projected to change more strongly than global mean temperatures, and soil moisture–temperature feedbacks significantly contribute to this regional amplification. Because of their strong societal, ecological and economic impacts, robust projections of temperature extremes are needed. Unfortunately, in current model projections, temperature extremes in central Europe are prone to large uncertainties. In order to understand and potentially reduce the uncertainties of extreme temperature projections in Europe, we analyze global climate models from the CMIP5 (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5) ensemble for the business-as-usual high-emission scenario (RCP8.5). We find a divergent behavior in long-term projections of summer precipitation until the end of the 21st century, resulting in a trimodal distribution of precipitation (wet, dry and very dry). All model groups show distinct characteristics for the summer latent heat flux, top soil moisture and temperatures on the hottest day of the year (TXx), whereas for net radiation and large-scale circulation no clear trimodal behavior is detectable. This suggests that different land–atmosphere coupling strengths may be able to explain the uncertainties in temperature extremes. Constraining the full model ensemble with observed present-day correlations between summer precipitation and TXx excludes most of the very dry and dry models. In particular, the very dry models tend to overestimate the negative coupling between precipitation and TXx, resulting in a warming that is too strong. This is particularly relevant for global warming levels above 2°C. For the first time, this analysis allows for the substantial reduction of uncertainties in the projected changes of TXx in global climate models. Our results suggest that long-term temperature changes in TXx in central Europe are about 20% lower than those projected by the multi-model median of the full ensemble. In addition, mean summer precipitation is found to be more likely to stay close to present-day levels. These results are highly relevant for improving estimates of regional climate-change impacts including heat stress, water supply and crop failure for central Europe.

Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Climate change projections of temperature extremes are particularly uncertain in central Europe. We demonstrate that varying soil moisture–atmosphere feedbacks in current climate models leads to an enhancement of model differences; thus, they can explain the large uncertainties in extreme temperature projections. Using an observation-based constraint, we show that the strong drying and large increase in temperatures exhibited by models on the hottest day in central Europe are highly unlikely.
Climate change projections of temperature extremes are particularly uncertain in central Europe....