, Volume 112, Issue 2, pp 325-337
Date: 08 Sep 2011

Intensification of seasonal extremes given a 2°C global warming target

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Abstract

Current international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit human-induced global-mean near-surface temperature increases to 2°C, relative to the pre-industrial era, are intended to avoid possibly significant and dangerous impacts to physical, biological, and socio-economic systems. However, it is unknown how these various systems will respond to such a temperature increase because their relevant spatial scales are much different than those represented by numerical global climate models—the standard tool for climate change studies. This deficiency can be addressed by using higher-resolution regional climate models, but at great computational expense. The research presented here seeks to determine how a 2°C global-mean temperature increase might change the frequency of seasonal temperature extremes, both in the United States and around the globe, without necessarily resorting to these computationally-intensive model experiments. Results indicate that in many locations the regional temperature increases that accompany a 2°C increase in global mean temperatures are significantly larger than the interannual-to-decadal variations in seasonal-mean temperatures; in these locations a 2°C global mean temperature increase results in seasonal-mean temperatures that consistently exceed the most extreme values experienced during the second half of the 20th Century. Further, results indicate that many tropical regions, despite having relatively modest overall temperature increases, will have the most substantial increase in number of hot extremes. These results highlight that extremes very well could become the norm, even given the 2°C temperature increase target.