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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • climate envelopes;
  • general circulation models;
  • North American trees;
  • uncertainty

Abstract

Global climate models are constantly being upgraded, but it is often not clear what these changes have on climate change impact projections. We used difference maps to directly compare downscaled projections of temperature and precipitation across North America for two versions (or generations) of three different Atmospheric-Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCM)s. We found that AOGCM versions differed in their projections for the end of the current century by up to 4 °C for annual mean temperature and 60% for annual precipitation. To place these changes in an ecological context, we reanalyzed our work on shifts in tree climate envelopes (CEs) using the newer-generation AOGCM projections. Based on the updated AOGCMs, by the 2071–2100 period, tree CEs shifted up to 2.4 degrees further north or 2.6 degrees further south (depending on the AOGCM) and were about 10% larger in size. Despite considerable differences between versions of a given AOGCM, projections made by the newer version of each AOGCM were in general agreement, suggesting convergence across the three models studied here. Assessing the AOGCM outputs in this way provides insight into the magnitude and importance of change associated with AOGCM upgrades as they continue to evolve through time.