, Volume 86, Issue 1-4, pp 81-99
Date: 25 Jul 2006

Extreme precipitation over the Maritime Alps and associated weather regimes simulated by a regional climate model: Present-day and future climate scenarios

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We use the regional climate model RegCM nested within time-slice atmospheric general circulation model experiments to investigate the possible changes of intense and extreme precipitation over the French Maritime Alps in response to global climate change. This is a region with complex orography where heavy and/or extended precipitation episodes induced catastrophic floods during the last decades. Output from a 30-year simulation of present-day climate (1961–1990) is first analysed and compared with NCEP reanalysed 700 hPa geopotential heights (Z700) and daily precipitation observations from the Alpine Precipitation Climatology (1966–1999). Two simulations under forcing from the A2 and B2 IPCC emission scenarios for the period 2071–2100 are used to investigate projected changes in extreme precipitation for our region of interest. In general, the model overestimates the annual cycle of precipitation. The climate change projections show some increase of precipitation, mostly outside the warm period for the B2 scenario, and some increase in the variability of the annual precipitation totals for the A2 scenario. The model reproduces the main observed patterns of the spatial leading EOFs in the Z700 field over the Atlantic-European domain. The simulated large scale circulation (LSC) variability does not differ significantly from that of the reanalysis data provided the EOFs are computed on the same domain. Two similar clusters of LSC corresponding to heavy precipitation days were identified for both simulated and observed data and their patterns do not change significantly in the climate change scenarios. The analysis of frequency histograms of extreme indices shows that the control simulation systematically underestimates the observed heavy precipitation expressed as the 90th percentile of rainday amounts in all seasons except summer and better reproduces the greatest 5-day precipitation accumulation. The main hydrological changes projected for the Maritime Alps consist of an increase of most intense wet spell precipitation during winters for both scenarios and during autumn for the B2 scenario. Case studies of heavy precipitation events show that the RegCM is capable to reproduce the physical mechanisms responsible for heavy precipitation over our region of interest.