Evaluating heat extremes in the UK Climate Projections (UKCP18)

A. T. Kennedy-Asser, O. Andrews, D. M. Mitchell, R. F. Warren

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In recent years, UK summer heatwaves have resulted in thousands of excess deaths, with both extreme temperatures and high humidity increasing health risks. Here, the UK Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18) are compared to observational (HadUK-Grid) and reanalysis data (ERA5) to quantify model performance at capturing mean, extremes (95th to 99.5th percentiles) and variability in the climate state and heat stress metrics (simplified wet bulb global temperature, sWBGT; Humidex; apparent temperature). Simulations carried out for UKCP18 generally perform as well as or better than CMIP5 models in reproducing observed spatial patterns of UK climate relating to extreme heat, with RMSE values on average ~30% less than for the CMIP5 models. Increasing spatial resolution in UKCP18 simulations is shown to yield a minor improvement in model performance (RMSE values on average ~5% less) compared to observations, however there is considerable variability between ensemble members within resolution classes. For both UKCP18 and CMIP5 models, model error in capturing characteristics of extreme heat generally reduces when using heat stress metrics with a larger vapour pressure component, such as sWBGT. Finally, the 95th percentile of observed UK summer temperature is shown to have ~60% greater interannual variability than the summer mean over the recent past (1981–2000). This effect is underestimated in UKCP18 models (~33%) compared to HadUK-grid and ERA5. Compared to projected future changes in the global mean temperature, UK summer mean and 95th percentile temperatures are shown in increase at a faster rate than the global mean.
Original languageEnglish
Article number014039
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2021

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