Evaluation of historical and future simulations of precipitation and temperature in central Africa from CMIP5 climate models

Noel R. Aloysius, Justin Sheffield, James E. Saiers, Haibin Li, Eric F. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Global and regional climate change assessments rely heavily on the general circulation model (GCM) outputs such as provided by the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5). Here we evaluate the ability of 25 CMIP5 GCMs to simulate historical precipitation and temperature over central Africa and assess their future projections in the context of historical performance and intermodel and future emission scenario uncertainties. We then apply a statistical bias correction technique to the monthly climate fields and develop monthly downscaled fields for the period of 1948–2099. The bias-corrected and downscaled data set is constructed by combining a suite of global observation and reanalysis-based data sets, with the monthly GCM outputs for the 20th century, and 21st century projections for the medium mitigation (representative concentration pathway (RCP)45) and high emission (RCP85) scenarios. Overall, the CMIP5 models simulate temperature better than precipitation, but substantial spatial heterogeneity exists. Many models show limited skill in simulating the seasonality, spatial patterns, and magnitude of precipitation. Temperature projections by the end of the 21st century (2070–2099) show a robust warming between 2 and 4°C across models, whereas precipitation projections vary across models in the sign and magnitude of change (9% to 27%). Projected increase in precipitation for a subset of models (single model ensemble (SME)) identified based on performance metrics and causal mechanisms are slightly higher compared to the full multimodel ensemble (MME) mean; however, temperature projections are similar between the two ensemble means. For the near-term (2021–2050), neither the historical performance nor choice of models is related to the precipitation projections, indicating that natural variability dominated any signal. With fewer models, the “blind” MME approach will have larger uncertainties in future precipitation projections compared to projections by the SME models. We propose the latter a better approach in regions that lack quality climate observations. Our analyses also show that the choice of model and emission scenario dominate the uncertainty in precipitation projections, whereas the emission scenario dominates the temperature projections. Although our analyses are done for central Africa, the final Bias-Corrected Spatially Downscaled data set is available for global land areas. The framework for climate change assessment and the data will be useful for a variety of climate assessment, impact, and adaptation studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-152
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 16 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Evaluation of historical and future simulations of precipitation and temperature in central Africa from CMIP5 climate models'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this