Guest post by Marcel Crok
A few months ago we made the launch of the international discussion platform . This week we start the third dialogue about the (added) value of regional climate models. We have three excellent participants joining this discussion: Bart van den Hurk of KNMI in The Netherlands who is actively involved in the KNMI scenario’s, Jason Evans from the University of Newcastle, Australia, who is coordinator of Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) and Roger Pielke Sr. who through his research articles and his weblog is well known for his outspoken views on climate modelling. Below you find the introductory article on which the three experts had to base their guest blog. After reading that head over to the dialogue.
Introductory article: Are climate models ready to make regional projections?
Climate models are vital tools for helping us understand long-term changes in the global climate system. These models allow us to make physically plausible projections of how the climate might evolve in the future under given greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
Global climate projections for 2050 and 2100 have, amongst other purposes, been used to inform potential mitigation policies, i.e. to get a sense of the challenge we are facing in terms of CO2 emission reductions. The next logical step is to use models for adaptation as well. Stakeholders have an almost insatiable demand for future regional climate projections. These demands are driven by practical considerations related to freshwater resources, especially ecosystems and water related infrastructure, which are vulnerable to climate change.
Global climate models (GCMs) though have grid scales that are quite coarse (>100 km). This hampers the reconstruction of climate change at smaller scales (regional to local). Regions (the size of e.g. the Netherlands) are usually covered by only a few grid points. A crucial question therefore is whether information from global climate models at this spatial scale is realistic and meaningful, in hind cast and/or for the future.
Hundreds of studies have been published in the literature  presenting regional projections of climate change for 2050 and 2100. The output of such model simulations is then used by the climate impacts community to investigate what potential future benefits or threats could be expected. However several recent studies cast doubt whether global model output is realistic on a regional scale, even in hind cast. [2-5]
So a legitimate question is whether global and/or regional climate models are ready to be used for regional projections? Is the information reliable enough to use for all kinds of medium to long term adaptation planning? Or should we adopt a different approach?
To improve the resolution of the models other techniques, such as regional climate models (RCMs), or downscaling methods, have been developed. Nesting a regional climate model (with higher spatial resolution) into an existing GCM is one way to downscale data. This is called dynamical downscaling. A second way of downscaling climate model data is through the use of statistical regression. Statistical downscaling is based on relationships linking large-scale atmospheric variables from either GCMs or RCMs (predictors)and local/regional climate variables (predictands) using observations. 
Both methods are widely used inside the regional modelling community. The higher spatial resolution allows a more detailed representation of relevant processes, which will hopefully, but not necessarily, result in a “better” prediction. However RCMs operate under a set of boundary conditions that are dependent on the parent GCM. Hence, if the GCM does not do an adequate job of reproducing the climate signal of a particular region, the RCM will simply mimic those inaccuracies and biases. A valid question therefore is if and how the coupling of a RCM to a GCM can provide more refined insights. [7,8]
Recently Kerr  caused quite a stir in the regional modelling community by raising doubts about the reliability of regional model output. A debate about the reliability of model simulations is quickly seen as one between proponents and sceptics of anthropogenic global warming. However as Kundzewicz  points out “these are pragmatic concerns, raised by hydrologists and water management practitioners, about how useful the GCMs are for the much more detailed level of analysis (and predictability) required for site-specific water management decisions (infrastructure planning, design and operations).”
See Climate dialogue
The focus of this Climate Dialogue will be on the reliability of climate simulations for the regional scale. An important question will be if there is added value from regional climate downscaling.
More specific questions:
1) How realistic are simulations by GCM’s on the regional scale?
2) Do some parameters (e.g. temperature) perform better than others (e.g. precipitation)?
3) Do some regions perform better than others?
4) To what extent can regional climate models simulate the past?
5) What is the best way to determine the skill of the hind cast?
6) Is there added value of regional models in comparison with global models?
7) What are the relative merits of dynamical and statistical downscaling?
8) How should one judge projections of these regional models?
9) Should global/regional climate models be used for decisions concerning infrastructure development? If so how? If not, what should form a better scientific base for such decisions?
 The CMIP3 and CMIP5 list of publications is a good starting point, see http://www-pcmdi.llnl.gov/ipcc/subproject_publications.php and http://cmip.llnl.gov/cmip5/publications/allpublications
 G.J. van Oldenborgh, F.J. Doblas Reyes, S.S. Drijfhout, and E. Hawkins, “Reliability of regional climate model trends”, Environmental Research Letters, vol. 8, pp. 014055, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/014055
 Anagnostopoulos, G. G., Koutsoyiannis, D., Christofides, A., Efstratiadis, A. &Mamassis, N. (2010) A comparison of local and aggregated climate model outputs with observed data. Hydrol. Sci. J. 55(7), 1094–1110
 Stephens, G. L., T. L’Ecuyer, R. Forbes, A. Gettlemen, J.‐C. Golaz, A. Bodas‐Salcedo, K. Suzuki, P. Gabriel, and J. Haynes (2010), Dreary state of precipitation in global models, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D24211, doi:10.1029/2010JD014532
 J. Bhend, and P. Whetton, “Consistency of simulated and observed regional changes in temperature, sea level pressure and precipitation”, Climatic Change, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10584-012-0691-2
 Wilby, R. L. (2010) Evaluating climate model outputs for hydrologicalapplications – Opinion. Hydrol. Sci. J. 55(7), 1090–1093
 Kundzewicz, Zbigniew W. and Stakhiv, Eugene Z.(2010) ‘Are climate models “ready for prime time” inwater resources management applications, or is more research needed?’, Hydrological Sciences Journal, 55: 7, 1085 —1089
 Pielke, R. A. S., and R. L. Wilby, 2012: Regional climate downscaling: What’s the point? Eos Trans.AGU, 93, PAGE 52, doi:201210.1029/2012EO050008
 R.A. Kerr, “Forecasting Regional Climate Change Flunks Its First Test”, Science, vol. 339, pp. 638-638, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.339.6120.638
 Kundzewicz, Zbigniew W. and Stakhiv, Eugene Z.(2010) ‘Are climate models “ready for prime time” in water resources management applications, or is more research needed?’, Hydrological Sciences Journal, 55: 7, 1085 —1089