Articles | Volume 16, issue 9
Special issue:
Opinion article
 | Highlight paper
21 Sep 2012
Opinion article | Highlight paper |  | 21 Sep 2012

HESS Opinions "Should we apply bias correction to global and regional climate model data?"

U. Ehret, E. Zehe, V. Wulfmeyer, K. Warrach-Sagi, and J. Liebert

Abstract. Despite considerable progress in recent years, output of both global and regional circulation models is still afflicted with biases to a degree that precludes its direct use, especially in climate change impact studies. This is well known, and to overcome this problem, bias correction (BC; i.e. the correction of model output towards observations in a post-processing step) has now become a standard procedure in climate change impact studies. In this paper we argue that BC is currently often used in an invalid way: it is added to the GCM/RCM model chain without sufficient proof that the consistency of the latter (i.e. the agreement between model dynamics/model output and our judgement) as well as the generality of its applicability increases. BC methods often impair the advantages of circulation models by altering spatiotemporal field consistency, relations among variables and by violating conservation principles. Currently used BC methods largely neglect feedback mechanisms, and it is unclear whether they are time-invariant under climate change conditions. Applying BC increases agreement of climate model output with observations in hindcasts and hence narrows the uncertainty range of simulations and predictions without, however, providing a satisfactory physical justification. This is in most cases not transparent to the end user. We argue that this hides rather than reduces uncertainty, which may lead to avoidable forejudging of end users and decision makers. We present here a brief overview of state-of-the-art bias correction methods, discuss the related assumptions and implications, draw conclusions on the validity of bias correction and propose ways to cope with biased output of circulation models in the short term and how to reduce the bias in the long term. The most promising strategy for improved future global and regional circulation model simulations is the increase in model resolution to the convection-permitting scale in combination with ensemble predictions based on sophisticated approaches for ensemble perturbation. With this article, we advocate communicating the entire uncertainty range associated with climate change predictions openly and hope to stimulate a lively discussion on bias correction among the atmospheric and hydrological community and end users of climate change impact studies.

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