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WIREs Clim Change
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An appraisal of downscaling methods used in climate change research

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The term ‘downscaling’ refers to the process of translating information from global climate model simulations to a finer spatial resolution. There are numerous methods by which this translation of information can occur. For users of downscaled information, it is important to have some understanding of the properties of different methods (in terms of their capabilities and limitations to convey the change signal, as simulated by the global model), as these dictate the type of applications that the downscaled information can be used for in impact, adaptation, and vulnerability research. This article provides an appraisal of downscaling in terms of its perceived purpose and value for informing on plausible impacts due to climate change and for underpinning regional risk assessments. The concepts climate realism and physical plausibility of change are introduced to qualify the broad scale properties associated with different categories of downscaling approaches; the former concerning the skill of different approaches to represent regional climate characteristics and the latter their skill in simulating regional climate change. Aspects of change not captured by global climate models, due to resolution or regional factors, may be captured by downscaling. If these aspects are of interest, then downscaling may be useful once it has been demonstrated to add value. For cases where the broad scale change to the mean climate is of interest, or where there is no demonstrated added value from downscaling, then there is a wide range of regionalization methods that are suitable for practitioners in the impact, adaptation, and vulnerability field. WIREs Clim Change 2015, 6:301–319. doi: 10.1002/wcc.339 This article is categorized under: Assessing Impacts of Climate Change > Scale Issues Assessing Impacts of Climate Change > Scenario Development and Application
Schematic representation of the two components of physical plausibility of change, viz., approach capability and approach bias. The darker shading denotes higher capability/ability.
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Summary of typical characteristics associated with downscaling methods discussed within this document. The first column denotes ‘ease of use’. Note that this judgment refers to the downscaled dataset not to the implementing the method. Blue colored boxes indicate ‘low complexity’, ‘high skill’ of the listed methods, yellow indicate circumstances when methods are characterized by some limitations, and red indicates characteristics that present major challenges/restrictions in their applicability.
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Assessing Impacts of Climate Change > Scenario Development and Application
Assessing Impacts of Climate Change > Scale Issues

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