, Volume 16, Issue 12, pp 949-961

Uncertainties linked to land-surface processes in climate change simulations

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Abstract

 The impact of climate change on the hydrology of continental surfaces is critical for human activities but the response of the surface to this perturbation may also affect the sensitivity of the climate. This complex feedback is simulated in general circulation models (GCMs) used for climate change predictions by their land-surface schemes. The present study attempts to quantify the uncertainty associated with these schemes and what impact it has on our confidence in the simulated climate anomalies. Four GCMs, each coupled to two different land-surface schemes, are used to explore the spectrum of uncertainties. It is shown that, in this sample, surface processes have a significant contribution to our ability to predict surface temperature changes and perturbations of the hydrological cycle in an environment with doubled greenhouse gas concentration. The results reveal that the uncertainty introduced by land-surface processes in the simulated climate is different from its impact on the sensitivity of GCMs to climate change, indeed an alteration of the surface parametrization with little impact on model climate can affect sensitivity significantly. This result leads us to believe that the validation of land-surface schemes should not be limited to the current climate but should also cover their sensitivity to variations in climatic forcing.