The impact of regional climate model formulation and resolution on simulated precipitation in Africa

Wu, Minchao; Nikulin, Grigory; Kjellström, Erik; Belušić, Danijel; Jones, Colin; Lindstedt, David

We investigate the impact of model formulation and horizontal resolution on the ability of Regional Climate Models (RCMs) to simulate precipitation in Africa. Two RCMs (SMHI-RCA4 and HCLIM38-ALADIN) are utilized for downscaling the ERA-Interim reanalysis over Africa at four different resolutions: 25, 50, 100, and 200 km. In addition to the two RCMs, two different parameter settings (configurations) of the same RCA4 are used. By contrasting different downscaling experiments, it is found that model formulation has the primary control over many aspects of the precipitation climatology in Africa. Patterns of spatial biases in seasonal mean precipitation are mostly defined by model formulation, while the magnitude of the biases is controlled by resolution. In a similar way, the phase of the diurnal cycle in precipitation is completely controlled by model formulation (convection scheme), while its amplitude is a function of resolution. However, the impact of higher resolution on the time-mean climate is mixed. An improvement in one region/season (e.g. reduction in dry biases) often corresponds to a deterioration in another region/season (e.g. amplification of wet biases). At the same time, higher resolution leads to a more realistic distribution of daily precipitation. Consequently, even if the time-mean climate is not always greatly sensitive to resolution, the realism of the simulated precipitation increases as resolution increases. Our results show that improvements in the ability of RCMs to simulate precipitation in Africa compared to their driving reanalysis in many cases are simply related to model formulation and not necessarily to higher resolution. Such model formulation related improvements are strongly model dependent and can, in general, not be considered as an added value of downscaling.

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Wu, Minchao / Nikulin, Grigory / Kjellström, Erik / et al: The impact of regional climate model formulation and resolution on simulated precipitation in Africa. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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