IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

11.5.3 Climate Projections Surface Air Temperature

The ensemble mean of the MMD models projects a generalised warming for the entire continent with the magnitude projected to increase almost linearly with time (Figure 11.11). On an annual-mean basis, projected surface air temperature warming varies from 2°C to 3°C along the western, southern and eastern continental edges (where at least 16 out of the 21 models project a warming in excess of 2°C) up to more than 5°C in the northern region (where 16 out of the 21 AOGCMs project a warming in excess of 4°C). This warming exceeds the spread among models by a factor of three to four over most of the continent. The warming in the USA is projected to exceed 2°C by nearly all the models, and to exceed 4°C by more than 5 AOGCMs out of 21. More regional and seasonal detail on ranges of projected warming is provided in Table 11.1 and Supplementary Table S11.2.

Figure 11.11

Figure 11.11. Temperature anomalies with respect to 1901 to 1950 for five North American land regions for 1906 to 2005 (black line) and as simulated (red envelope) by MMD models incorporating known forcings; and as projected for 2001 to 2100 by MMD models for the A1B scenario (orange envelope). The bars at the end of the orange envelope represent the range of projected changes for 2091 to 2100 for the B1 scenario (blue), the A1B scenario (orange) and the A2 scenario (red). The black line is dashed where observations are present for less than 50% of the area in the decade concerned. More details on the construction of these figures are given in Box 11.1 and Section 11.1.2.

The largest warming is projected to occur in winter over northern parts of Alaska and Canada, reaching 10°C in the northernmost parts, due to the positive feedback from a reduced period of snow cover. The ensemble-mean northern warming varies from more than 7°C in winter (nearly all AOGCMs project a warming exceeding 4°C) to as little as 2°C in summer. In summer, ensemble-mean projected warming ranges between 3°C and 5°C over most of the continent, with smaller values near the coasts. In western, central and eastern regions, the projected warming has less seasonal variation and is more modest, especially near the coast, consistent with less warming over the oceans. The warming could be larger in winter over elevated areas as a result of snow-albedo feedback, an effect that is poorly modelled by AOGCMs due to insufficient horizontal resolution (see also Box 11.3). In winter, the northern part of the eastern region is projected to warm most while coastal areas are projected to warm by only 2°C to 3°C.

The climate change response of RCMs is sometimes different from that of the driving AOGCM. This appears to be the result of a combination of factors, including the use of different parametrizations (convection and land surface processes are particularly important over North America in summer) and resolution (different resolution may lead to differing behaviour of the same parametrization). For example, Chen et al. (2003) find that two RCMs project larger temperature changes in summer than their driving AOGCM. In contrast, the projected warming of an RCM compared to its driving AOGCM was found to be 1.5°C less in the central USA (Pan et al., 2004; Liang et al., 2006), a region where observations have shown a cooling trend in recent decades. This resulted in an area of little warming that may have been due to a changing pattern of the LLJ frequency and associated moisture convergence. It is argued that the improved simulation of the LLJ in the RCM is made possible owing to its increased horizontal and vertical resolution. However, other RCMs with similar resolution do not produce the same response.