Skip to main content


Log in

An assessment of temperature simulations by CMIP6 climate models over the Tibetan Plateau and differences with CMIP5 climate models

Theoretical and Applied Climatology Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Based on observational data from 1961 to 2014, the ability of 20 global climate models (GCMs) participating in the sixth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) to simulate surface air temperature climatology and variability over the Tibetan Plateau (TP) is evaluated. The possible difference between the simulations of CMIP6 models and temperature simulations by models participating in the fifth phase of the CMIP (CMIP5) over the TP is also examined. The results reveal that most GCMs have the ability to reproduce climatological patterns and seasonal spatial variations in the surface air temperature. However, most GCMs have a cold bias, with a mean underestimation of 0.05–8.28 °C, and the multimodel ensemble means (MME) and medians of 20 GCMs underestimate the climatological mean over the TP by approximately 2.51 °C and 2.22 °C for 1961–2014. Regarding annual temperature, the top five GCMs with the least amount of bias for both the spatial distribution and regional-averaged temperature are NESM3, UKESM1.0-LL, CESM2, HadGEM3-GC3.1-LL, and GISS-ES.1-G. The cold bias of GCMs over the eastern TP is smaller than that over the TP, and the cold bias is more serious over the western TP. The MME and multimodel median values of 20 GCMs are − 2.00 °C and − 1.94 °C over the eastern TP, respectively, while they are − 3.00 °C and − 2.35 °C over the western TP. Regarding seasonal temperature, outputs from CMIP6 GCMs also reveal a significant cold bias over the western TP that is particularly prominent in spring and winter. Compared with CIMP5 simulations, the CIMP6 models seem to show very limited improvement over the TP. Cold bias is more serious for annual, spring, summer, and winter simulations in CMIP6 than in CMIP5, especially over the western TP. Nevertheless, the simulations of the geographical distribution of annual and seasonal temperatures are further improved in CMIP6. Moreover, over the northeastern TP, such as Tsaidam Basin and Qilian Mountain, GCMs from CMIP6 show slight improvement.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10

Availability of data and material

All the data used in this work are public. The CMIP6 data are provided online at; the CMIP5 data can obtain online at; observation data set CN05.1 are provided by the National Climate Centre of China (Wu and Gao 2013).

Code availability

NCAR Command Language (NCL) is used to process the data analysis and plot the figures.


  • Chen L, Frauenfeld OW (2014) A comprehensive evaluation of precipitation simulations over China based on CMIP5 multimodel ensemble projections. J Geophys Res Atmos 119:5767–5786

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chen XL, Liu YM, Wu GX (2017) Understanding the surface temperature cold bias in CMIP5 AGCMs over the Tibetan Plateau. Adv Atmos Sci 34:1447–1460

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duan AM, Hu J, Xiao ZX (2013) The Tibetan Plateau summer monsoon in the CMIP5 Simulations. J Clim 26:7747–7766

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eyring V, Bony S, Meehl GA, Senior CA, Stevens B, Stouffer RJ, Taylor KE (2016) Overview of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) experimental design and organization. Geosci Model Dev 9:1937–1958

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eyring V, Cox PM, Flato GM et al (2019) Taking climate model evaluation to the next level. Nat Clim Chang 9:102–110

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flato G, Marotzke J, Abiodun B et al (2013) Evaluation of climate models. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, pp741–866.

  • Hu Q, Jiang DB, Fan GZ (2014) Evaluation of CMIP5 models over the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Chinese J Atmospheric Sci (in Chinese) 38:924–938

    Google Scholar 

  • Hua W, Fan GZ, Zhang YW et al (2017) Trends and uncertainties in surface air temperature over the Tibetan Plateau, 1951–2013. J Meteorol Res 31:420–430

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hua W, Lin ZX, Wang X, Fan GZ (2019a) Weakening relationship between East Asian summer monsoon and Asian-Pacific oscillation after 1990s. Adv. Meteorol.

  • Hua W, Lin ZX, Guo DL, Fan GZ, Zhang YL, Yang KQ, Hu Q, Zhu LH (2019b) Simulated long-term vegetation-climate feedbacks in the Tibetan Plateau. Aisa-Pac J Atmos Sci 55:41–52

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Immerzeel WW, van Beek LPH, Bierkens MFP (2010) Climate change will affect the Asian water towers. Science 328:1382–1385

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ji D, Dong WJ, Hong T, Dai TL, Zheng ZY, Yang SL, Zhu X (2018) Assessing parameter importance of the weather research and forecasting model based on global sensitivity analysis methods. J Geophys Res Atmos 123:4443–4460

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jiang DB, Hu D, Tian ZP, Lang XM (2020) Differences between CMIP6 and CMIP5 models in simulating climate over China and the East Asian monsoon. Adv Atmos Sci 37:1102–1118

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kun J, Ruan YF, Yang YZ, Zhang C (2019) Assessing the performance of CMIP5 Global Climate Models for simulating future precipitation change in the Tibetan Plateau. Water 11:1771

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liu XD, Chen BD (2000) Climatic warming in the Tibetan Plateau during recent decades. Int J Climatol 20:1729–1742

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lin ZX, Zhu JJ, Hua W, Fan GZ (2019) Influence of Asian-Pacific Oscillation on precipitation in central eastern China during autumn (1960–2016). Adv Meteorol.

  • Lin ZX, Zhu JJ, Hua W, Fan GZ (2021) Impact of the August Asian-Pacific Oscillation on autumn precipitation in central eastern China. Aisa-Pac J Atmos Sci 57:181–190

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meehl GA, Covey C, Delworth T, Latif M, McAvaney B, Mitchell JFB, Stouffer RJ, Taylor KE (2007) The WCRP CMIP3 multimodel dataset: a new era in climate change research. Bull Amer Meteorol Soc 88:1383–1394

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Palazzi E, Filippi L, Hardenberg VJ (2017) Insights into elevation-dependent warming in the Tibetan Plateau-Himalayas from CMIP5 model simulations. Clim Dyn 48:3991–4008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Qiu J (2008) The third pole. Nature 454:393–396

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Salunke P, Jain S, Mishra SK (2019) Performance of the CMIP5 models in the simulation of the Himalaya-Tibetan Plateau monsoon. Theor Appl Climatol 137:909–928

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shen SSP, Lee CK, Lawrimore J (2012) Uncertainties, trends, and hottest and coldest years of US surface air temperature since 1895: an update based on the USHCN V2 data. J Clim 25:4185–4203

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Su FG, Duan XL, Chen DL, Hao ZC, Cuo L (2013) Evaluation of the global climate models in the CMIP5 over the Tibetan Plateau. J Clim 26:3187–3208

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor KE (2001) Summarizing multiple aspects of model performance in a single diagram. J Geophys Res Atmos 106:7183–7192

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor KE, Stouffer RJ, Meehl GA (2012) An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull Amer Meteorol Soc 93:485–498

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thompson LG, Yao T, Mosley-Thompson E, Davis ME, Henderson KA, Lin PN (2000) A high-resolution millennial record of the South Asian monsoon from Himalayan ice cores. Science 289:1916–1919

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wang B, Bao Q, Hoskins B, Wu GX, Liu YM (2008) Tibetan Plateau warming and precipitation changes in East Asia. Geophys Res Lett 35:L14702

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wu Q, Zhang T (2010) Changes in active layer thickness over the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau from 1995 to 2007. J Geophys Res Atmos 115:D09107

    Google Scholar 

  • Wu J, Gao XJ (2013) A gridded daily observation dataset over China region and comparison with the other datasets. Chinese J Geophys (in Chinese) 56:1102–1111

    Google Scholar 

  • Yanai M, Li C, Song ZS (1992) Seasonal heating of the Tibetan Plateau and its effects on the evolution of the Asian summer monsoon. J Meteor Soc Japan 70:319–351

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yao TD, Wang YQ, Liu SY, Pu JC, Shen YP, Lu AX (2004) Recent glacial retreat in High Asia in China and its impact on water resource in northwest China. Sci China Ser d: Earth Sci 47:1065–1075

    Google Scholar 

  • Yao TD, Thompson L, Yang W, Yu WS, Gao Y, Guo XJ, Yang XX, Duan KQ, Zhao HB, Xu BQ, Pu JC, Lu AX, Xiang Y, Kattel DB, Joswiak D (2012) Different glacier status with atmospheric circulations in Tibetan Plateau and surroundings. Nat Clim Chang 2:663–667

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ye DZ, Wu GX (1998) The role of the heat source of the Tibetan Plateau in the general circulation. Meteorol Atmos Phys 67:181–198.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • You QL, Min JZ, Kang SC (2016) Rapid warming in the Tibetan Plateau from observations and CMIP5 models in recent decades. Int J Climatol 36:2660–2670

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • You QL, Cai ZY, Wu FY, Jiang ZH, Pepin N, Shen SSP (2021) Temperature datasets of CMIP6 models over China: evaluation, trend, and uncertainty. Clim Dyn 57:17–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zheng D, Zhang Q, Wu S (2000) Mountain geoecology and sustainable development of the Tibetan Plateau. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, p 394

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references


We acknowledge the organizations that provided the model simulations and observation data for our study (listed in Tables 1 and 2).


This work was jointly supported by The Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research (STEP) program (2019QZKK010203), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41775072 and 42075019), the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2018YFC1505702), the Science and Technology Program of Sichuan province (2020JDJQ0050 and 2019JDJQ0001), and the Scientific Research Foundation of Chengdu University of Information Technology (KYTZ201812).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Qin Hu contributed to data analysis, major figure plotting, and manuscript drafting; Wei Hua contributed to conceptualization, design, and writing; Kaiqing Yang, Jing Ming, and Pan Ma contributed to data collection, calculation, data analysis, and figure plotting; Yong Zhao and Guangzhou Fan contributed in data curation, validation, and manuscript revision.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wei Hua.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval

Complied with the Ethical Standards of Theoretical and Applied Climatology Journal.

Consent to participate

All authors give their consent to participate in this paper.

Consent for publication

Informed consent to publish has been obtained from each participant.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hu, Q., Hua, W., Yang, K. et al. An assessment of temperature simulations by CMIP6 climate models over the Tibetan Plateau and differences with CMIP5 climate models. Theor Appl Climatol 148, 223–236 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: