CMIP5: 21st Century Precipitation Scenarios

  • Released Friday, September 27, 2013

These data visualizations from the NASA Center for Climate Simulation and NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., show how climate models used in the new report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate possible precipitation changes throughout the 21st century.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes a report on the consensus view of climate change science about every five to seven years. The first findings of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) were released on Sept. 27, 2013, in the form of the Summary for Policymakers report and a draft of IPCC Working Group 1's Physical Science Basis. The IPCC does not perform new science but instead authors a report that establishes the established understanding of the world's climate science community.

The report not only includes observations of the real world but also the results of climate model projections of how the Earth will respond as a system to rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The IPCC's AR5 relies on the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) effort, an international effort among the climate modeling community to coordinate climate change experiments.

These visualizations represent the mean output of how certain groups of CMIP5 models responded to four different scenarios called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). These four RCPs – 2.6, 4.5, 6 and 8.5 – represent a wide range of potential worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and sequestration scenarios for the coming century. The pathways are numbered based on the expected Watts per square meter – essentially a measure of how much heat energy is being trapped by the climate system – each scenario would produce. The pathways are partly based on the ultimate concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The current carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is around 400 parts per million, up from less than 300 parts per million at the end of the 19th century.

The carbon dioxide concentrations in the year 2100 for each RCP are:

RCP 2.6: 421 ppm

RCP 4.5: 538 ppm

RCP 6: 670 ppm

RCP 8.5: 936 ppm

Each visualization represents the mean output of a different number of models for each RCP, because data from all models in the CMIP5 project was not available in the same format for visualization for each RCP. All of the models compare a projection of precipitation changes from 2006-2099 to a baseline historical average from 1971-2000.

Thus, the values shown for each year represent the departure for that year compared to the observed average precipitation from 1971-2000. The IPCC report used 1986-2005 as a baseline period, making its reported anomalies slightly different from those shown in the visualizations.

Colorbar for IPCC precipitation anomaly percent change ranging from 50% less than normal (drier) to over 100% greater than normal (wetter).

Colorbar for IPCC precipitation anomaly percent change ranging from 50% less than normal (drier) to over 100% greater than normal (wetter).


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Additional credits should also go to the IPCC community, without whom these visualizations would not have been possible. Please click here for all IPCC contributors.

Release date

This page was originally published on Friday, September 27, 2013.
This page was last updated on Thursday, June 27, 2024 at 11:03 AM EDT.

Datasets used in this visualization

Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details, nor the data sets themselves on our site.