The relative contributions of radiative forcing and internal climate variability to the late 20th Century winter drying of the Mediterranean region

Abstract

The roles of anthropogenic climate change and internal climate variability in causing the Mediterranean region’s late 20th Century extended winter drying trend are examined using 19 coupled models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. The observed drying was influenced by the robust positive trend in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) from the 1960s to the 1990s. Model simulations and observations are used to assess the probable relative roles of radiative forcing, and internal variability in explaining the circulation trend that drove much of the precipitation change. Using the multi-model ensemble we assess how well the models can produce multidecadal trends of realistic magnitude, and apply signal-to-noise maximizing EOF analysis to obtain a best estimate of the models’ (mean) sea-level pressure (SLP) and precipitation responses to changes in radiative forcing. The observed SLP and Mediterranean precipitation fields are regressed onto the timeseries associated with the models’ externally forced pattern and the implied linear trends in both fields between 1960 and 1999 are calculated. It is concluded that the radiatively forced trends are a small fraction of the total observed trends. Instead it is argued that the robust trends in the observed NAO and Mediterranean rainfall during this period were largely due to multidecadal internal variability with a small contribution from the external forcing. Differences between the observed and NAO-associated precipitation trends are consistent with those expected as a response to radiative forcing. The radiatively forced trends in circulation and precipitation are expected to strengthen in the current century and this study highlights the importance of their contribution to future precipitation changes in the region.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their detailed and constructive comments, the Global Decadal Hydroclimate group at Lamont and Columbia for their input, and NOAA and NSF for support. This work is supported under the following grants: NSF AGS-1128172, NA10OAR4310137, NSF ATM08-04107, NSF AGS 05-43256 and NOAA NA08OAR4320912.

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Correspondence to Colin Kelley.

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Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Contribution Number 7504.

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Kelley, C., Ting, M., Seager, R. et al. The relative contributions of radiative forcing and internal climate variability to the late 20th Century winter drying of the Mediterranean region. Clim Dyn 38, 2001–2015 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-011-1221-z

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Keywords

  • Mediterranean
  • Drying
  • Radiative forcing
  • Hydroclimate
  • Winter