Abstract

Regional information on climate change is urgently needed but often deemed unreliable. To achieve credible regional climate projections, it is essential to understand underlying physical processes, reduce model biases and evaluate their impact on projections, and adequately account for internal variability. In the tropics, where atmospheric internal variability is small compared with the forced change, advancing our understanding of the coupling between long-term changes in upper-ocean temperature and the atmospheric circulation will help most to narrow the uncertainty. In the extratropics, relatively large internal variability introduces substantial uncertainty, while exacerbating risks associated with extreme events. Large ensemble simulations are essential to estimate the probabilistic distribution of climate change on regional scales. Regional models inherit atmospheric circulation uncertainty from global models and do not automatically solve the problem of regional climate change. We conclude that the current priority is to understand and reduce uncertainties on scales greater than 100 km to aid assessments at finer scales.

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Acknowledgements

S.M. Long drew Figures 2 and 3. S.P.X. is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and M.C. by NERC NE/I022841/1. NCAR is supported by the NSF.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093-0206, USA

    • Shang-Ping Xie
    •  & Nathaniel C. Johnson
  2. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado 80307-3000, USA

    • Clara Deser
  3. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, 201 Forrestal Road, Princeton, New Jersey 08540-6649, USA

    • Gabriel A. Vecchi
    •  & Thomas L. Delworth
  4. College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4QF, UK

    • Matthew Collins
  5. Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, UCLA, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA

    • Alex Hall
  6. National Centre for Atmospheric Science, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6BB, UK

    • Ed Hawkins
  7. International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Nathaniel C. Johnson
  8. Cooperative Institute for Climate Science, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, USA

    • Nathaniel C. Johnson
  9. CNRS/CERFACS, 42 avenue Gaspard Coriolis, Toulouse F-31057 Cedex, France

    • Christophe Cassou
  10. International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, New York 10964-8000, USA

    • Alessandra Giannini
  11. Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, University of Tokyo, 5-1-5 Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba 277-8568, Japan

    • Masahiro Watanabe

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Contributions

S.P.X., C.D. and M.C. led the writing of the paper. All authors contributed to the development and writing of the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shang-Ping Xie.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2689

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