In hydrological climate-change impact studies, regional climate models (RCMs) are commonly used to transfer large-scale global climate model (GCM) data to smaller scales and to provide more detailed regional information. Due to systematic and random model errors, however, RCM simulations often show considerable deviations from observations. This has led to the development of a number of correction approaches that rely on the assumption that RCM errors do not change over time. It is in principle not possible to test whether this underlying assumption of error stationarity is actually fulfilled for future climate conditions. In this study, however, we demonstrate that it is possible to evaluate how well correction methods perform for conditions different from those used for calibration with the relatively simple differential split-sample test.
For five Swedish catchments, precipitation and temperature simulations from 15 different RCMs driven by ERA40 (the 40yr reanalysis product of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF)) were corrected with different commonly used bias correction methods. We then performed differential split-sample tests by dividing the data series into cold and warm respective dry and wet years. This enabled us to cross-evaluate the performance of different correction procedures under systematically varying climate conditions. The differential split-sample test identified major differences in the ability of the applied correction methods to reduce model errors and to cope with non-stationary biases. More advanced correction methods performed better, whereas large deviations remained for climate model simulations corrected with simpler approaches. Therefore, we question the use of simple correction methods such as the widely used delta-change approach and linear transformation for RCM-based climate-change impact studies. Instead, we recommend using higher-skill correction methods such as distribution mapping.