Consequences of Global Warming of 1.5 °C and 2 °C for Regional Temperature and Precipitation Changes in the Contiguous United States

TitleConsequences of Global Warming of 1.5 °C and 2 °C for Regional Temperature and Precipitation Changes in the Contiguous United States
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsKarmalkar, Ambarish V., and Bradley Raymond S.
Date PublishedNov-01-2017
Keywords1.5 celsius, 2 celsius, climate change, precipitation, Temperature

The differential warming of land and ocean leads to many continental regions in the Northern Hemisphere warming at rates higher than the global mean temperature. Adaptation and conservation efforts will, therefore, benefit from understanding regional consequences of limiting the global mean temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, a limit agreed upon at the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris in December 2015. Here, we analyze climate model simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) to determine the timing and magnitude of regional temperature and precipitation changes across the contiguous United States (US) for global warming of 1.5 and 2°C and highlight consensus and uncertainties in model projections and their implications for making decisions. The regional warming rates differ considerably across the contiguous US, but all regions are projected to reach 2°C about 10-20 years before the global mean temperature. Although there is uncertainty in the timing of exactly when the 1.5 and 2°C thresholds will be crossed regionally, over 80% of the models project at least 2°C warming by 2050 for all regions for the high emissions scenario. This threshold-based approach also highlights regional variations in the rate of warming across the US. The fastest warming region in the contiguous US is the Northeast, which is projected to warm by 3°C when global warming reaches 2°C. The signal-to-noise ratio calculations indicate that the regional warming estimates remain outside the envelope of uncertainty throughout the twenty-first century, making them potentially useful to planners. The regional precipitation projections for global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C are uncertain, but the eastern US is projected to experience wetter winters and the Great Plains and the Northwest US are projected to experience drier summers in the future. The impact of different scenarios on regional precipitation projections is negligible throughout the twenty-first century compared to uncertainties associated with internal variability and model diversity.

Short TitlePLoS ONE