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Projected changes in characteristics of precipitation spatial structures over North America



Spatial structures of hourly precipitation fields were studied from three simulations of the Canadian Regional Climate Model (CRCM) and observations of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Stage IV analysis. Each precipitation structure, defined as a contiguous area of precipitation above a given threshold, was analysed through geometric characteristics (position, area, major and minor axes, eccentricity, orientation) and intensity characteristics (volume, mean and maximum intensities, precipitation distribution within the structure) for 16 climatic regions covering North America. While providing new insights on the spatial facet of precipitation, this study aimed to: (1) assess the performance of the CRCM to reproduce observed precipitation structures and (2) analyse the changes in precipitation structures between historical (1961–1990) and future (2071–2100) periods. In addition, the effect of internal variability was investigated using two CGCM-driven CRCM simulations. In order to assess the CRCM performance, a reanalysis-driven CRCM simulation was first compared with observations and then with CGCM-driven CRCM simulations. Results suggest that reanalysis-driven CRCM precipitation structures displayed intensities spatially more homogeneous than observed ones for the central and eastern United States and showed significantly lower precipitation volumes, intensities and areas. However, annual cycles of characteristic values were well reproduced. In addition, CGCM-driven CRCM showed significantly lower precipitation volumes and intensities during summer months for southeastern regions when compared to reanalysis-driven CRCM. Precipitation structures were also larger and shifted further north. Boundary conditions seemed to influence mainly central and eastern regions of North America. In future climate, results suggest more convective summer precipitations for central and eastern regions (increases in volumes, intensities and heterogeneity of structures), drier spring and summer conditions for southwestern regions (decreases in numbers of structures), wetter winter and spring conditions for northern regions (increases in numbers of structures) and wetter autumn conditions for southeastern regions (increases in volumes and intensities).