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Keywords:

  • precipitation;
  • CMIP5;
  • China

Abstract

Precipitation variability has great economic, social, and environmental impacts across the globe, and in particular in China. This paper evaluates the historical precipitation variability based on 20 general circulation models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) archive over the 20th century relative to two observational data sets and quantifies CMIP5 improvements over CMIP3. Multimodel ensemble means and individual models are assessed. Three future emission scenarios are used (representative concentration pathways (RCP) 8.5, RCP 4.5, and RCP 2.6), and 21st century CMIP5 estimates are put into context based on the 20th century biases. We find that CMIP5 models can reproduce the spatial pattern of precipitation over China during the 20th century, which represents an improvement over CMIP3. However, the models overestimate the magnitude of seasonal and annual precipitation in most regions of China, especially along the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, and underestimate summer precipitation over southeastern China. For China as a whole, CMIP5's overestimation of annual precipitation is greater than CMIP3, which can be traced back to a greater underestimation of summer precipitation in CMIP3. There is a large spread among individual models, with the greatest uncertainties in simulating summer precipitation. Trends and correlations also suggest a better agreement of CMIP5 with observations than CMIP3. Throughout the 20th century, both the observations and models show an increasing trend in precipitation over parts of northwestern China and a decreasing trend over the Tibetan Plateau. There is poor agreement in precipitation trends over the southeast and northeast regions. In general, multimodel means cannot capture the amplitude of observed multidecadal precipitation variability. In the 21st century, precipitation is generally projected to increase across all of China under all three scenarios. RCP 8.5 exhibits the largest significant trend at a rate of +1.5 mm/yr, corresponding to 16% precipitation increase by the end of the century. The RCP 2.6 scenario shows the smallest increases, at +0.5 mm/yr (6%) by 2100. The greatest increases are projected to occur over the Tibetan Plateau and eastern China in summer, suggesting an altered monsoonal circulation in the future. However, due to the uncertainties in CMIP5, future precipitation projections should be interpreted with caution.