Climate change scenarios from a regional climate model: Estimating change in runoff in southern Africa



[1] This paper describes an analysis of different ways of constructing climate change scenarios using output from three climate models. It focuses on using the HadRM3H regional climate model applied across southern Africa and a macroscale runoff model operating at a scale of 0.5 × 0.5° to simulate river runoff. HadRM3H has a spatial resolution of 0.44 × 0.44° and is driven by boundary conditions from HadAM3H, a global atmosphere general circulation model with a spatial resolution of 1.875 × 1.25°. This, in turn, used sea-surface boundary conditions from HadCM3, a coupled global ocean-atmosphere general circulation model that operates at a spatial resolution of 3.75 × 2.5°. Sixteen climate scenarios were constructed from the three models, representing different combinations of model scale, whether the climate model simulations were used directly or changes were applied to an observed baseline, and whether observed or simulated variations from year-to-year were used. The different ways of deriving climate scenarios from a single initial climate model experiment result in a range in change in average annual runoff at a location of at least 10%, and often more than 20%. There is a clear difference in the large-scale spatial pattern of change in runoff from HadCM3 to HadRM3H. Many of the climate features in HadRM3H are already present in HadAM3H simulations, as would be expected from the experimental design. This suggests that for studies over a large geographic domain, an intermediate-resolution global climate model can produce useful scenarios for impact assessments. HadRM3H overestimates rainfall across much of southern Africa and so results in too much runoff: This leads to smaller estimates of future change in runoff than arise when changes in climate are applied to an observed climate baseline. It is concluded that under these circumstances it is preferable to apply modeled changes in climate to observed data to construct climate scenarios rather than derive these directly from the regional climate model simulations. Incorporating increases in interannual variability as simulated by HadRM3H leads to little change in simulated annual mean runoff. However, it has a larger impact on the frequency distributions of runoff, with extreme flows predicted to increase more than mean flows and even to increase in areas where the mean flow decreases. This demonstrates the importance of considering not only changes in mean climate but also climate variability.