Skill, correction, and downscaling of GCM-simulated precipitation

Jonathan M. Eden, Martin Widmann, David Grawe, Sebastian Rast

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Citations (Scopus)


The ability of general circulation models (GCMs) to correctly simulate precipitation is usually assessed by comparing simulated mean precipitation with observed climatologies. However, to what extent the skill in simulating average precipitation indicates how well the models represent temporal changes is unclear. A direct assessment of the latter is hampered by the fact that freely evolving climate simulations for past periods are not set up to reproduce the specific evolution of internal atmospheric variability. Therefore, model-toreal-world comparisons of time series of daily, monthly, or annual precipitation are not meaningful. Here, for the first time, the authors quantifyGCMskill in simulating precipitation variability using simulations in which the temporal evolution of the large-scale atmospheric state closely matches that of the real world. This is achieved by nudging the atmospheric states in the ECHAM5 GCM, but crucially not the precipitation field itself, toward the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40). Global correlation maps between observed and simulated seasonal precipitation allow areas in which simulated future precipitation changes are likely to be meaningful to be identified. In many areas, correlations higher than 0.8 are found. This means also that in these regions the simulated precipitation is a very good predictor for the true precipitation, and thus a statistical correction of the simulated precipitation, which can include a downscaling component, can provide useful estimates for local-scale precipitation. The authors show that a simple scaling of the simulated precipitation performs well in a cross validation and thus appears to be a promising alternative to standard statistical downscaling approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3970-3984
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Bias
  • Climate models
  • General circulation models
  • Model errors
  • Model output statistics
  • Precipitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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