, Volume 99, Issue 3-4, pp 499-514
Date: 10 Oct 2009

IPCC-AR4 climate simulations for the Southwestern US: the importance of future ENSO projections

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Abstract

Future climate trends for the Southwestern US, based on the climate models included in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, project a more arid climate in the region during the 21st century. However, future climate variability associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)—an important driver for winter climate variability in the region—have not been addressed. In this work we evaluate future winter ENSO projections derived from two selected IPCC models, and their effect on Southwestern US climate. We first evaluate the ability of the IPCC coupled models to represent the climate of the Southwest, selecting the two models that best capture seasonal precipitation and temperature over the region and realistically represent ENSO variability (Max Planck Institute’s ECHAM5 and the UK Met Office HadCM3). Our work shows that the projected future aridity of the region will be dramatically amplified during La Niña conditions, as anomalies over a drier mean state, and will be characterized by higher temperatures (~0.5°C) and lower precipitation (~3 mm/mnt) than the projected trends. These results have important implications for water managers in the Southwest who must prepare for more intense winter aridity associated with future ENSO conditions.