Climatic Change

, Volume 122, Issue 4, pp 523–538 | Cite as

Assessment of CMIP5 global model simulations and climate change projections for the 21 st century using a modified Thornthwaite climate classification

  • N. ElguindiEmail author
  • A. Grundstein
  • S. Bernardes
  • U. Turuncoglu
  • J. Feddema


A modified Thornthwaite Climate Classification is applied to a 32-member ensemble of CMIP5 GCMs in order to 1) evaluate model performance in the historical climate and 2) assess projected climate change at the end of the 21 s t century following two greenhouse gas representative concentration pathways (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5). This classification scheme differs from the well-known Köppen approach as it uses potential evapotranspiration for thermal conditions, a moisture index for moisture conditions, and has even intervals between climate classes. The multi-model ensemble (MME) reproduces the main spatial features of the global climate reasonably well, however, in many regions the climate types are too moist. Extreme climate types, such as those found in polar and desert regions, as well as the cool- and cold-wet types of eastern North America and the warm and cool-moist types found in the southern U.S., eastern South America, central Africa and Europe are reproduced best by the MME. In contrast, the cold-dry and cold-semiarid climate types characterizing much of the high northern latitudes and the warm-wet type found in parts of Indonesia and southeast Asia are poorly represented by the MME. Regionally, most models exhibit the same sign in moisture and thermal biases, varying only in magnitude. Substantial changes in climate types are projected in both the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios. Area coverage of torrid climate types expands by 11 % and 19 % in the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 projections, respectively. Furthermore, a large portion of these areas in the tropics will experience thermal conditions which exceed the range of historical values and fall into a novel super torrid climate class. The greatest growth in moisture types in climate zones is among those with dry climates (moisture index values < 0) with increased areas of more than 8 % projected by the RCP8.5 MME.


Potential Evapotranspiration Moisture Index Representative Concentration Pathway Historical Climate Climate Type 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups (listed in Supplemental Table of this paper) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the U.S. Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

Supplementary material

10584_2013_1020_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (249 kb)
(PDF 248 KB)
10584_2013_1020_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (75 kb)
(PDF 74.5 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Elguindi
    • 1
    Email author
  • A. Grundstein
    • 2
  • S. Bernardes
    • 3
  • U. Turuncoglu
    • 4
  • J. Feddema
    • 5
  1. 1.Earth System Physics SectionThe Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical PhysicsTriesteItaly
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.Center for Geospatial Research, Department of GeographyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  4. 4.Informatics InstituteIstanbul Technical UniversityIstanbulTurkey
  5. 5.Department of GeographyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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