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Controls on the Diversity in Climate Model Projections of Early Summer Drying over Southern Africa


Ninety-five percent of climate models contributing to phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) project early summer [October–December (OND)] rainfall declines over subtropical southern Africa by the end of the century, under all emissions forcing pathways. The intermodel consensus underlies the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment that rainfall declines are ‘‘likely’’ and implies that significant climate change adaptation is needed. However, model consensus is not necessarily a good indicator of confidence, especially given that there is an order of magnitude difference in the scale of rainfall decline among models in OND (from ,10 mm season21 to ;100 mm season21), and that the CMIP5 ensemble systematically overestimates present-day OND precipitation over subtropical southern Africa (in some models by a factor of 2). In this paper we investigate the uncertainty in the OND drying signal by evaluating the climate mechanisms that underlie the diversity in model rainfall projections. Models projecting the highest-magnitude drying simulate the largest increases in tropospheric stability over subtropical southern Africa associated with anomalous upper-level subsidence, reduced evaporation, and amplified surface temperature change. Intermodel differences in rainfall projections are in turn related to the large- scale adjustment of the tropical atmosphere to emissions forcing: models with the strongest relative warming of the northern tropical sea surface temperatures compared to the tropical mean warming simulate the largest rainfall declines. The models with extreme rainfall declines also tend to simulate large present-day biases in rainfall and in atmospheric stability, leading the authors to suggest that projections of high-magnitude drying require further critical attention.