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Wood, Raul R. (2023): Role of mean and variability change in changes in European annual and seasonal extreme precipitation events. Earth System Dynamics, 14 (4). pp. 797-816. ISSN 2190-4987

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The frequency of precipitation extremes is set to change in response to a warming climate. Thereby, the change in extreme precipitation event occurrence is influenced by both a shift in the mean and a change in variability. How large the individual contributions are from either of them (mean or variability) to the change in precipitation extremes is largely unknown. This is, however, relevant for a better understanding of how and why climate extremes change. For this study, two sets of forcing experiments from the regional CRCM5 initial-condition large ensemble are used: a set of 50 members with historical and RCP8.5 forcing and a 35-member (700-year) ensemble of pre-industrial natural forcing. The concept of the probability risk ratio is used to partition the change in extreme-event occurrence into contributions from a change in mean climate or a change in variability. The results show that the contributions from a change in variability are in parts equally important to changes in the mean and can even exceed them. The level of contributions shows high spatial variation, which underlines the importance of regional processes for changes in extremes. While over Scandinavia or central Europe the mean influences the increase in extremes more, the increase is driven by changes in variability over France, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Mediterranean. For annual extremes, the differences between the ratios of contribution of mean and variability are smaller, while on seasonal scales the difference in contributions becomes larger. In winter (DJF) the mean contributes more to an increase in extreme events, while in summer (JJA) the change in variability drives the change in extremes. The level of temporal aggregation (3, 24, 72 h) has only a small influence on annual and winterly extremes, while in summer the contribution from variability can increase with longer durations. The level of extremeness for the event definition generally increases the role of variability. These results highlight the need for a better understanding of changes in climate variability to better understand the mechanisms behind changes in climate extremes.

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