A review of observed and projected changes in climate for the islands in the Caribbean
Observed and projected changes in climate have serious socio-economic implications for the Caribbean islands. This article attempts to present basic climate change information—based on previous studies, available observations and climate model simulations—at spatial scales relevant for islands in the Caribbean. We use the General Circulation Model (GCM) data included in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP3) and the UK Hadley Centre regional climate model (RCM) data to provide both present-day and scenario-based future information on precipitation and temperature for individual island states. Gridded station observations and satellite data are used to study 20th century climate and to assess the performance of climate models. With main focus on precipitation, we also discuss factors such as sea surface temperature, sea level pressure and winds that affect seasonal variations in precipitation. The CMIP3 ensemble mean and the RCM successfully capture the large-scale atmospheric circulation features in the region, but show difficulty in capturing the characteristic bimodal seasonal cycle of precipitation. Future drying during the wet season in this region under climate change scenarios has been noted in previous studies, but the magnitude of change is highly uncertain in both GCM and RCM simulations. The projected decrease is more prominent in the early wet season erasing the mid-summer drought feature in the western Caribbean. The RCM simulations show improvements over the GCM mainly due to better representation of landmass, but its performance is critically dependent on the driving GCM. This study highlights the need for high-resolution observations and ensemble of climate model simulations to fully understand climate change and its impacts on small islands in the Caribbean.