Assessing trends in observed and modelled climate extremes over Australia in relation to future projections


  • Lisa V. Alexander,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia
    2. Met Office, Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK
    • School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, Vic 3800, Australia.
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  • Julie M. Arblaster

    1. School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
    2. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA
    3. Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
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Multiple simulations from nine globally coupled climate models were assessed for their ability to reproduce observed trends in a set of indices representing temperature and precipitation extremes over Australia. Observed trends over the period 1957–1999 were compared with individual and multi-modelled trends calculated over the same period. When averaged across Australia, the magnitude of trends and interannual variability of temperature extremes were well simulated by most models, particularly for the index for warm nights. The majority of models also reproduced the correct sign of trend for precipitation extremes although there was much more variation between the individual model runs. A bootstrapping technique was used to calculate uncertainty estimates and also to verify that most model runs produce plausible trends when averaged over Australia. Although very few showed significant skill at reproducing the observed spatial pattern of trends, a pattern correlation measure showed that spatial noise could not be ruled out as dominating these patterns. Two of the models with output from different forcings showed that the observed trends over Australia for one of the temperature indices was consistent with an anthropogenic response, but was inconsistent with natural-only forcings. Future projected changes in extremes using three emissions scenarios were also analysed. Australia shows a shift towards warming of temperature extremes, particularly a significant increase in the number of warm nights and heat waves with much longer dry spells interspersed with periods of increased extreme precipitation, irrespective of the scenario used. Copyright © 2008 Royal Meteorological Society