The Effects of Climate Model Similarity on Local, Risk-Based Adaptation Planning

Friday, 19 December 2014
Scott Steinschneider, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Northampton, MA, United States and Casey M Brown, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, United States
The climate science community has recently proposed techniques to develop probabilistic projections of climate change from ensemble climate model output. These methods provide a means to incorporate the formal concept of risk, i.e., the product of impact and probability, into long-term planning assessments for local systems under climate change. However, approaches for pdf development often assume that different climate models provide independent information for the estimation of probabilities, despite model similarities that stem from a common genealogy. Here we utilize an ensemble of projections from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) to develop probabilistic climate information, with and without an accounting of inter-model correlations, and use it to estimate climate-related risks to a local water utility in Colorado, U.S. We show that the tail risk of extreme climate changes in both mean precipitation and temperature is underestimated if model correlations are ignored. When coupled with impact models of the hydrology and infrastructure of the water utility, the underestimation of extreme climate changes substantially alters the quantification of risk for water supply shortages by mid-century. We argue that progress in climate change adaptation for local systems requires the recognition that there is less information in multi-model climate ensembles than previously thought. Importantly, adaptation decisions cannot be limited to the spread in one generation of climate models.