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Twenty-first-century projections of North Atlantic tropical storms from CMIP5 models


Assessing potential changes in North Atlantic (NA) tropical storm (TS) activity this century is of paramount societal and economic significance, and the topic of intense scientific research1. We explore projections of NA TS changes over the twenty-first century by applying a statistical downscaling methodology2,3 to a suite of experiments with the latest state-of-the-art global coupled climate models4. We also apply a methodology5 to partition the dominant sources of uncertainty in the TS projections. We find that over the first half of the twenty-first century radiative forcing changes act to increase NA TS frequency; this increase arises from radiative forcings other than increasing CO2 (probably aerosols). However, NA TS trends over the entire twenty-first century are of ambiguous sign. We find that for NA TS frequency, in contrast to sea surface temperature (SST), the largest uncertainties are driven by the chaotic nature of the climate system and by the climate response to radiative forcing. These results highlight the need to better understand the processes controlling patterns of SST change in response to radiative forcing and internal climate variability to constrain estimates of future NA TS activity. Coordinated experiments isolating forcing agents in projections should improve our understanding, and would enable better assessment of future TS activity.

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Figure 1: Twenty-first-century projections of SST and NA TS frequency using CMIP5.
Figure 2: Slopes of the regression lines for three periods (2006–2050, 2051–2100 and 2006–2100) for NA TS frequency derived from the SST projections using 17 global climate models and the three CMIP5 scenarios (RCP 2.6, RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5).
Figure 3: Fractional contribution to uncertainties in CMIP5 projections of SST and TS frequency.
Figure 4: Total uncertainty in CMIP5 projections of SST and TS frequency.


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We are grateful for comments from K. Dixon, I. Held, A. Johansson and R. Msadek. We also acknowledge useful comments by K. Emanuel. We are grateful to L. Donner and L. Horowitz for making perturbation experiments with GFDL-CM3 available to us. This work was partly supported by the Willis Research Network. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table S1) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

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Both authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper and to the writing.

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Correspondence to Gabriele Villarini.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests. However, in the interest of transparency, we confirm that Gabriele Villarini was funded through the Willis Research Network, which is part of the Willis Group. The results of this work were not influenced by possible financial gains or losses by the Willis Group.

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Villarini, G., Vecchi, G. Twenty-first-century projections of North Atlantic tropical storms from CMIP5 models. Nature Clim Change 2, 604–607 (2012).

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