Regional projections of future seasonal and annual changes in rainfall and temperature over Australia based on skill-selected AR4 models

A. J. Pitman, S. E. Perkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Daily data from climate models submitted to the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are compared with daily data from observations over Australia by measuring the overlap of the probability density functions (PDFs). The capacity of these models to simulate maximum temperature, minimum temperature, and precipitation is assessed. The resulting skill score is then used to exclude models with relatively poor skill region by region over Australia. The remaining sample of coupled climate models is then used to determine the seasonal changes in these three variables under a high- (A2) and low- (B1) emission scenario for 2050 and 2100. The authors demonstrate that some projected phenomena, such as the projected drying over southwest Western Australia, are robust and not caused by the inclusion of some weak models in earlier assessments. Some other results, such as the projected change in the monsoon, are more consistent among the good climate models. Consistent with earlier work, a consistent pattern of mean warming is identified in the projections. The amount of warming in the 99.7th percentile is not dramatically higher than the warming in the mean. However, while the mean warming is generally least in the south, the amount of warming in the 99.7th percentile is substantially higher along the southern coast of Australia. This is due to a coupling of the temperature response with reduced rainfall, which causes drying and allows extreme maximum temperatures to increase dramatically. The authors show that, in general, the amount of rainfall is projected to change relatively little, but the frequency of rainfall decreases and the intensity of rainfall at the upper tail of the distribution increases. However, the scale of the increase in extreme rainfall is not large on the time scales analyzed here. The range in projected temperature changes among those climate models with skill in simulating the observations is at least twice as large for the 99.7th/0.3rd percentiles as for the mean. For rainfall, the range among the good models is of order 10 times greater in the 99.7th percentile than in the mean. Since the impact of changes in extremes is increasingly recognized as societally important, this result strongly limits the use of climate model data to explore sectors that are vulnerable to extremes. This suggests an evaluation strategy that focuses on model capacity to simulate whole PDFs since capacity to simulate the mean is a necessary but insufficient criterion for determining a model's value for future projection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-50
Number of pages50
JournalEarth Interactions
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Australia
  • Climate models
  • Regional assessment

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