Climatic Change

, Volume 99, Issue 3, pp 515-534

First online:

Applying probabilistic projections of climate change with impact models: a case study for sub-arctic palsa mires in Fennoscandia

  • Stefan FronzekAffiliated withFinnish Environment Institute (SYKE) Email author 
  • , Timothy R. CarterAffiliated withFinnish Environment Institute (SYKE)
  • , Jouni RäisänenAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, University of Helsinki
  • , Leena RuokolainenAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, University of Helsinki
  • , Miska LuotoAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Oulu

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A comparison of two approaches for determining probabilistic climate change impacts is presented. In the first approach, ensemble climate projections are applied directly as inputs to an impact model and the risk of impact is computed from the resulting ensemble of outcomes. As this can involve large numbers of projections, the approach may prove to be impractical when applied to complex impact models with demanding input requirements. The second approach is to construct an impact response surface based on a sensitivity analysis of the impact model with respect to changes in key climatic variables, and then to superimpose probabilistic projections of future climate onto the response surface to assess the risk of impact. To illustrate this comparison, an impact model describing the spatial distribution of palsas in Fennoscandia was applied to estimate the risk of palsa disappearance. Palsas are northern mire complexes with permanently frozen peat hummocks, located at the outer limit of the permafrost zone and susceptible to rapid decline due to regional warming. Probabilities of climate changes were derived from an ensemble of coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) projections using a re-sampling method. Results indicated that the response surface approach, though introducing additional uncertainty, gave risk estimates of area decline for palsa suitability that were comparable to those obtained using multiple simulations with the original palsa model. It was estimated as very likely (>90% probability) that a decline of area suitable for palsas to less than half of the baseline distribution will occur by the 2030s and likely (>66%) that all suitable areas will disappear by the end of the twenty-first century under scenarios of medium (A1B) and moderately high (A2) emissions. For a low emissions (B1) scenario, it was more likely than not (>50%) that conditions over a small fraction of the current palsa distribution would remain suitable until the end of the twenty-first century.