Theses Doctoral

Identifying and Modeling Spatio-temporal Structures in High Dimensional Climate and Weather Datasets with Applications to Water and Energy Resource Management

Farnham, David J.

Weather and climate events are costly to society both financially and in terms of human health and well being. The costs associated with extreme climate events have motivated governments, NGOs, private investors, and insurance companies to use the data and tools at their disposal to estimate the past, present, and future hazards associated with a wide range of natural phenomena in an effort to develop mitigation and/or adaptation strategies.
The nonstationary nature of climate risks requires the use of numerical climate models, often general circulation models (GCMs), to project future risk. The climate risk field, however, currently finds itself in a predicament because GCMs can be biased and do not provide a clear way to credibly estimate their uncertainty with respect to simulations of future surface climate conditions. In response to this predicament, I lay the groundwork for a set of GCM credibility assessments by identifying the large-scale drivers of surface climate events that evolve over a range of timescales ranging from daily to multi-decadal. I specifically focus on three types of climate events relevant to the water and energy sectors: 1) seasonal precipitation, which impacts drinking water supplies and agricultural productivity; 2) extreme precipitation and the costly associated riverine flooding; and 3) temperature, wind, and solar radiation fields that modulate both electricity demand and potential renewable electricity supply.
In chapter I, I derive a set of atmospheric indices and investigate their efficacy to predict distributed seasonal precipitation throughout the conterminous United States. These indices can also be used to diagnose the impact of tropical sea surface temperature heating patterns on conterminous United States precipitation. This is particularly of interest in the aftermath of the unexpected precipitation patterns in the conterminous United States during the 2015-2016 El Niño event. I show that the set of atmospheric indices, which I derive from zonal winds over the conterminous United States and portions of the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans, can skillfully predict precipitation over most regions of the conterminous United States better than previously recognized mid-latitude atmospheric and tropical oceanic indices.
This work contributes a set of intermediate atmospheric indices that can be used to assess the efficacy of forecasting and simulation climate models to capture signal that exists between tropical heating, mid-latitude circulation, and mid-latitude precipitation.
In chapter II, I first show that the frequency of regional extreme precipitation events, which are predictive of riverine flooding, in the Ohio River Basin are poorly simulated by a GCM relative to historical precipitation observations. I then illustrate that the same GCM is much better able to simulate the statistical characteristics of a set of atmospheric field-derived indices that I show to be strongly related to the precipitation events of interest. Thus, I develop a statistical model that allows for the simulation of the precipitation events based on the GCM's atmospheric fields, which allows me to estimate future hazard based on credibly simulated GCM fields. Lastly, I validate the fully Bayesian statistical model against historical observations and use the statistical model to project the future frequency of the regional extreme precipitation events. I conclude that there is evidence of increasing regional riverine flood hazard in the Central US river basin out to the year 2100, but that there is high uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the trend. This work suggests that the identification of atmospheric circulation patterns that modulate the probability of extreme precipitation and riverine flood risk may improve flood hazard projections by allowing risk analysts to assess GCMs with respect to their ability to simulate relevant atmospheric patterns.
In chapter III, I present the first comprehensive assessment of quasi-periodic decadal variations in wind and solar electricity potential and of covariability between heating and cooling electricity demand and potential wind and solar electricity production. I focus on six locations/regions in the conterminous United States that represent different climate zones and contain major load centers. The decadal variations are linked to quasi-oscillatory variations of the global climate system and lead to time-varying risks of meeting heating + cooling demand using wind/solar power. The quasi-cyclical patterns in renewable energy availability have significant ramifications for energy systems planning as we continue to increase our reliance on renewable, weather- and climate-dependent energy generation. This work suggests that certain modes of low frequency climate variability influence potential wind and solar energy supplies and are thus especially important for GCMs to credibly simulate.
All of the investigations are designed to be broadly applicable throughout the mid-latitudes and are demonstrated with specific case studies in the conterminous United States. The dissertation sections represent three cases where statistical techniques can be used to understand surface climate and climate hazards. This understanding can ultimately help to mitigate and adapt to climate variabilities and secular changes, which impact society, by assisting in the development, improvement, and credibility assessment of GCMs capable of reliably projecting future climate hazards.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Lall, Upmanu
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 5, 2018