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Modelling Sea Surface Temperatures at the Sub-Regional Scale

Paper Reviewed
Kwiatkowski, L., Halloran, P.R., Mumby, P.J. and Stephenson, D.B. 2014. What spatial scales are believable for climate model projections of sea surface temperature? Climate Dynamics 43: 1483-1496.

In a paper published in Climate Dynamics, Kwiatkowski et al. (2014) write that "Earth system models (ESMs) provide high resolution simulations of variables such as sea surface temperature (SST) that are often used in off-line biological impact models." This is done, they say, in order "to project both regional and global changes to coral growth and bleaching frequency." They note, however, that "accurately simulating the coastal zones represents a significant challenge for ESMs due to the complex local physics, biogeochemical and biophysical interactions in these regions, driven by strong bathymetric constraints on circulation, and the impacts of terrestrial and sedimentary geochemical fluxes," citing Holt et al. (2009) and Allen et al. (2010). Consequently, as a result of these challenging complexities, they set about to assess "model skill at capturing sub-regional climatologies and patterns of historical warming," working with a set of twelve CMIP5 models in five different regions that support coral reefs.

As for what they learned, the four researchers found that "CMIP5 models have typically very poor skill and often perform worse than chance at capturing spatial patterns of SST warming anomalies between 1960-1980 and 1985-2005 in the coral regions analyzed [italics added for emphasis]." And as a result, they conclude that the "output from current generation ESMs is not yet suitable for making sub-regional projections of change in coral bleaching frequency and other marine processes linked to SST warming," leaving much of importance to yet be accomplished in this regard.

References
Allen, J.I., Aiken, J., Anderson, T., Buitenhuis, E., Cornell, S., Geider, R., Haines, K., Hirata, T., Holt, J. Le Quere, C., Hardman-Mountford, N., Ross, O.N., Sinha, B. and While, J. 2010. Marine ecosystem models for earth systems applications: the MarQUEST experience. Journal of Marine Systems 81: 19-33.

Holt, J., Harle, J., Proctor, R., Michel, S., Ashworth, M., Batstone, C., Allen, I., Holmes, R., Smyth, T., Haines, K., Bretherton, D. and Smith, G. 2009. Modelling the global coastal ocean. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 367: 939-951.

Posted 7 January 2015