Date of Award:

Spring 2017

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Plants, Soils, and Climate

Advisor/Chair:

Jiming Jin

Abstract

This dissertation aims to better understand how various climate modeling approaches affect the fidelity of the North American Monsoon (NAM), as well as the sensitivity of the future state of the NAM under a global warming scenario. Here, we improved over current fully-coupled general circulation models (GCM), which struggle to fully resolve the controlling dynamics responsible for the development and maintenance of the NAM. To accomplish this, we dynamically downscaled a GCM with a regional climate model (RCM). The advantage here being a higher model resolution that improves the representation of processes on scales beyond that which GCMs can resolve. However, as all RCM applications are subject to the transference of biases inherent to the parent GCM, this study developed and evaluated a process to reduce these biases. Pertaining to both precipitation and the various controlling dynamics of the NAM, we found simulations driven by these bias-corrected forcing conditions performed moderately better across a 32-year historical climatology than simulations driven by the original GCM data.

Current GCM consensus suggests future tropospheric warming associated with increased radiative forcing as greenhouse gas concentrations increase will suppress the NAM convective environment through greater atmospheric stability. This mechanism yields later onset dates and a generally drier season, but a slight increase to the intensity during July-August. After comparing downscaled simulations forced with original and corrected forcing conditions, we argue that the role of unresolved GCM surface features such as changes to the Gulf of California evaporation lead to a more convective environment. Even when downscaling the original GCM data with known biases, the inclusion of these surface features altered and in some cases reversed GCM trends throughout the southwest United States. This reversal towards a wetter NAM is further magnified in future bias-corrected simulations, which suggest (1) fewer average number of dry days by the end of the 21st century (2) onset occurring up to two to three weeks earlier than the historical average, and (3) more extreme daily precipitation values. However, consistent across each GCM and RCM model is the increase in inter-annual variability, suggesting greater susceptibility to drought conditions in the future.

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