Modelling cumulus convection over the eastern escarpment of South Africa
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The complex and coupled physical processes taking place in the atmosphere, ocean and land surface are described in Global Circulation Models (GCMs). These models have become the main tools to simulate climate variability and project future climate change. GCMs have the potential to give physically reliable estimates of climate change at global, continental or regional scales, but their projections are currently of too course horizontal resolution to capture the smaller scale features of climate and climate change. This situation stems from the fact that GCM simulations, which are effectively three-dimensional simulations of the coupled atmosphere-ocean-land system, are computationally extremely expensive. Therefore, downscaling techniques are utilised to do perform simulations over preselected areas that are of sufficiently detailed to represent the climate features at the meso-scale. Dynamic regional climate models (RCMs), based on the same laws of physics as GCMs but applied at high resolution over areas of interest, have become the main tools to project regional climate change. The research presented here utilises the Conformal-Cubic Atmospheric Model (CCAM), a variable-resolution global atmospheric model that can be applied in stretched-grid mode to function as a regional climate model. As is the case with RCMs, CCAM has the potential to improve climate simulations along rough topography and coastal areas when applied at high spatial resolution, whilst side-stepping the lateral boundary condition problems experienced by typical limited-area RCMs. CCAM has been developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia. The objective in the study is to test capability of a regional climate model, CCAM, to realistically simulate cumulus convection at different spatial scales over regions with steep topography, such as the eastern escarpment of South Africa. Since both GCMs and RCMs are known to have large biases and shortcomings in simulating rainfall over the steep eastern escarpment of southern Africa and in particular Lesotho, the paper “Model simulations of rainfall over southern Africa and its eastern escarpment” (Chapter 3) has a focus on verifying model performance over this region. In the paper the CCAM simulations include six 200 km resolution Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project (AMIP) simulations that are forced with sea surface temperatures and one 50 km resolution National Centre for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) reanalysis simulation that is forced with sea surface temperatures and synoptic scale atmospheric forcings. These simulations are verified against rain gauge data sets and satellite rainfall estimates. The results reveal that at these resolutions the model is capable of simulating the key synoptic-scale features of southern African rainfall patterns. However, rainfall totals are often drastically overestimated. A key aspect of model performance is the representation of the diurnal cycle in convection. For the case of South Africa, the realistic representation of the complex patterns of rainfall over regions of steep topography is also of particular importance. At a larger spatial scale, the model also needs to be capable of representing the west-east rainfall gradient found over South Africa. The ability of CCAM to simulate the diurnal cycle in rainfall as well as the complex spatial patterns of rainfall over eastern South Africa is analysed in “High Resolution Rainfall Modelling over the Eastern Escarpment of South Africa” (Chapter 4). The simulations described in the paper have been performed at 8km resolutions in the horizontal and span a thirty-year long period. These are the highest resolution climate simulations obtained to date for the southern African region, and were obtained through the downscaling reanalysis data of the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF). The simulations provide a test of the robustness of the CCAM convective rainfall parameterisations when applied at high spatial resolution, in particular in representing the complex rainfall patterns of the eastern escarpment of South Africa.