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Nonlinear regional warming with increasing CO2 concentrations

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 25 February 2015

This article has been updated

Abstract

When considering adaptation measures and global climate mitigation goals, stakeholders need regional-scale climate projections, including the range of plausible warming rates. To assist these stakeholders, it is important to understand whether some locations may see disproportionately high or low warming from additional forcing above targets such as 2 K (ref. 1). There is a need to narrow uncertainty2 in this nonlinear warming, which requires understanding how climate changes as forcings increase from medium to high levels. However, quantifying and understanding regional nonlinear processes is challenging. Here we show that regional-scale warming can be strongly superlinear to successive CO2 doublings, using five different climate models. Ensemble-mean warming is superlinear over most land locations. Further, the inter-model spread tends to be amplified at higher forcing levels, as nonlinearities grow—especially when considering changes per kelvin of global warming. Regional nonlinearities in surface warming arise from nonlinearities in global-mean radiative balance, the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, surface snow/ice cover and evapotranspiration. For robust adaptation and mitigation advice, therefore, potentially avoidable climate change (the difference between business-as-usual and mitigation scenarios) and unavoidable climate change (change under strong mitigation scenarios) may need different analysis methods.

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Figure 1: Regional nonlinearity in the transient-forced 1pctCO2 experiment.
Figure 2: Mechanisms of nonlinear regional warming in HadGEM2-ES.
Figure 3: Doubling ratio of ensemble-mean warming.
Figure 4: Multi-model mechanisms of temperature nonlinearity.

Change history

  • 28 January 2015

    In the version of this Letter originally published, the fourth author affiliation should have read '4Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, Department of Environmental Sciences, ETH Zurich, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland.' This error has been corrected in the online versions of the Letter.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Joint UK DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). N.B. and J.M.G. received financial support from the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013), ERC Grant Agreement 247220, project ‘Seachange’. Simulations by J.L.D. were performed as part of the ANR ClimaConf project (grant no. ANR-10-CEPL-0003). H.S. was supported by the SOUSEI program from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan and the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (S-10) of the Ministry of the Environment of Japan. N.S. was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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P.G. conceived the study and wrote the paper. All authors contributed to the scientific interpretation and the paper. T.A., M.B.M., J.L.D., J.M.G., N.S. and H.S. performed experiments.

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Correspondence to Peter Good.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Good, P., Lowe, J., Andrews, T. et al. Nonlinear regional warming with increasing CO2 concentrations. Nature Clim Change 5, 138–142 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2498

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