, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 241–267 | Cite as

Detecting change in UK extreme precipitation using results from the BBC climate change experiment

  • Hayley J. Fowler
  • Daniel Cooley
  • Stephan R. Sain
  • Milo Thurston
Open Access


We investigate a question posed by policy makers, namely, “when will changes in extreme precipitation due to climate change be detectable?” To answer this question we use (CPDN) model simulations from the BBC Climate Change Experiment (CCE) over the UK. These provide us with the unique opportunity to compare 1-day extreme precipitation generated from climate altered by observed forcings (time period 1920–2000) and the SRES A1B emissions scenario (time period 2000–2080) (the Scenario) to extreme precipitation generated by a constant climate for year 1920 (the Control) for the HadCM3L General Circulation Model (GCM). We fit non-stationary Generalized Extreme Value (GEV) models to the Scenario output and compare these to stationary GEV models fit to the parallel Control. We define the time of detectable change as the time at which we would reject a hypothesis at the α = 0.05 significance level that the 20-year return level of the two runs is equal. We find that the time of detectable change depends on the season, with most model runs indicating that change to winter extreme precipitation may be detectable by the year 2010, and that change to summer extreme precipitation is not detectable by 2080. We also investigate which climate model parameters affect the weight of the tail of the precipitation distribution and which affect the time of detectable change for the winter season. We find that two climate model parameters have an important effect on the tail weight, and two others seem to affect the time of detection. Importantly, we find that climate model simulated extreme precipitation has a fundamentally different behavior to observations, perhaps due to the negative estimate of the GEV shape parameter, unlike observations which produce a slightly positive (∼0.0–0.2) estimate.


Extreme precipitation Detection Climate change Parameters Generalized extreme value 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hayley J. Fowler
    • 1
  • Daniel Cooley
    • 2
  • Stephan R. Sain
    • 3
  • Milo Thurston
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Civil Engineering and GeosciencesNewcastle UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK
  2. 2.Department of StatisticsColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Mathematics Applied to GeoscienceNational Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA
  4. 4.Oxford e-Research CentreOxford UniversityOxfordUK

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