How reliable are CMIP5 models in simulating dust optical depth?

Pu, B., and P. Ginoux (2018), How reliable are CMIP5 models in simulating dust optical depth?, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 12491-12510, doi:10.5194/acp-18-12491-2018.

Dust aerosol plays an important role in the climate system by affecting the radiative and energy balances. Biases in dust modeling may result in biases in simulating global energy budget and regional climate. It is thus very important to understand how well dust is simulated in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) models. Here seven CMIP5 models using interactive dust emission schemes are examined against satellite-derived dust optical depth (DOD) during 2004–2016.

It is found that multi-model mean can largely capture the global spatial pattern and zonal mean of DOD over land in present-day climatology in MAM and JJA. Global mean land DOD is underestimated by − 25.2 % in MAM to −6.4 % in DJF. While seasonal cycle, magnitude, and spatial pattern are generally captured by the multi-model mean over major dust source regions such as North Africa and the Middle East, these variables are not so well represented by most of the models in South Africa and Australia. Interannual variations in DOD are not captured by most of the models or by the multi-model mean. Models also do not capture the observed connections between DOD and local controlling factors such as surface wind speed, bareness, and precipitation. The constraints from surface bareness are largely underestimated while the influences of surface wind and precipitation are overestimated.

Projections of DOD change in the late half of the 21st century under the Representative Concentration Pathways 8.5 scenario in which the multi-model mean is compared with that projected by a regression model. Despite the uncertainties associated with both projections, results show some similarities between the two, e.g., DOD pattern over North Africa in DJF and JJA, an increase in DOD in the central Arabian Peninsula in all seasons, and a decrease over northern China from MAM to SON.

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Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)