Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics

, Volume 100, Issue 1, pp 3-22

First online:

Challenging some tenets of Regional Climate Modelling

  • R. LapriseAffiliated withUniversité du Québec Email author 
  • , R. de ElíaAffiliated withUniversité du QuébecConsortium Ouranos
  • , D. CayaAffiliated withUniversité du QuébecConsortium Ouranos
  • , S. BinerAffiliated withConsortium Ouranos
  • , P. Lucas-PicherAffiliated withUniversité du Québec
  • , E. DiaconescuAffiliated withUniversité du Québec
  • , M. LeducAffiliated withUniversité du Québec
  • , A. AlexandruAffiliated withUniversité du Québec
  • , L. SeparovicAffiliated withUniversité du Québec
    • , Canadian Network for Regional Climate Modelling and Diagnostics

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Nested Regional Climate Models (RCMs) are increasingly used for climate-change projections in order to achieve spatial resolutions that would be computationally prohibitive with coupled global climate models. RCMs are commonly thought to behave as a sort of sophisticated magnifying glass to perform dynamical downscaling, which is to add fine-scale details upon the large-scale flow provided as time-dependent lateral boundary condition.

Regional climate modelling is a relatively new approach, initiated less than twenty years ago. The interest for the approach has grown rapidly as it offers a computationally affordable means of entering into appealing applications of timely societal relevance, such as high-resolution climate-change projections and seasonal prediction. There exists however a need for basic research aiming at establishing firmly the strengths and limitations of the technique.

This paper synthesises the results of a stream of investigations on the merits and weaknesses of the nested approach, initiated almost a decade ago by some members of our team. This short paper revisits some commonly accepted notions amongst practitioners of Regional Climate Modelling, in the form of four tenets that will be challenged: (1) RCMs are capable of generating small-scale features absent in the driving fields supplied as lateral boundary conditions; (2) The generated small scales have the appropriate amplitudes and statistics; (3) The generated small scales accurately represent those that would be present in the driving data if it were not limited by resolution; (4) In performing dynamical downscaling, RCMs operate as a kind of sophisticated magnifying glass, in the sense that the small scales that are generated are uniquely defined for a given set of lateral boundary conditions (LBC). From the partial failure of the last two tenets emerges the notion of internal variability, which has often been thought to be negligible in one-way nested models due to the control exerted by the imposed lateral boundary conditions. A fifth tenet is also discussed, relating to the handling within the RCM domain of the large scales used to drive the RCM at the LBC. We close the article with an appeal to the RCM community to spend more effort in basic research in order to tackle a number of lingering issues that otherwise could jeopardize the credibility of the tool.