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

11.5 North America

Assessment of projected climate change for North America:

All of North America is very likely to warm during this century, and the annual mean warming is likely to exceed the global mean warming in most areas. In northern regions, warming is likely to be largest in winter, and in the southwest USA largest in summer. The lowest winter temperatures are likely to increase more than the average winter temperature in northern North America, and the highest summer temperatures are likely to increase more than the average summer temperature in the southwest USA.

Annual mean precipitation is very likely to increase in Canada and the northeast USA, and likely to decrease in the southwest USA. In southern Canada, precipitation is likely to increase in winter and spring, but decrease in summer.

Snow season length and snow depth are very likely to decrease in most of North America, except in the northernmost part of Canada where maximum snow depth is likely to increase.

The uncertainties in regional climate changes over North America are strongly linked to the ability of AOGCMs to reproduce the dynamical features affecting the region (Chapter 10). Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models exhibit large model-to-model differences in ENSO and NAO/Arctic Oscillation (AO) responses to climate changes. Changes in the Atlantic MOC are uncertain, and thus so is the magnitude of consequent reduced warming in the extreme north-eastern part of North America; cooling here cannot be totally excluded. The Hudson Bay and Canadian Archipelago are poorly resolved by AOGCMs, contributing to uncertainty in ocean circulation and sea ice changes and their influence on the climate of northern regions. Tropical cyclones are not resolved by the MMD models and inferred changes in the frequency, intensity and tracks of disturbances making landfall in southeast regions remain uncertain. At the coarse horizontal resolution of the MMD models, high-altitude terrain is poorly resolved, which likely results in an underestimation of warming associated with snow-albedo feedback at high elevations in western regions. Little is known about the dynamical consequences of the larger warming over land than over ocean, which may affect the northward displacement and intensification of the subtropical anticyclone off the West Coast. This could affect the subtropical North Pacific eastern boundary current, the offshore Ekman transport, the upwelling and its cooling effect on SST, the persistent marine stratus clouds and thus precipitation in the southwest USA.

The uncertainty associated with RCM projections of climate change over North America remains large despite the investments made in increasing horizontal resolution. All reported RCM projections were driven by earlier AOGCMs that exhibited larger biases than the MMD models. Coordinated ensemble RCM projections over North America are not yet available, making it difficult to compare results.