Whether there is a transition underway, from a warm-dry climate to a warm-wet climate in Northwest China remains a controversial and scientifically significant issue. Will this trend continue in the future? Another hot issue is whether the climate in Northwest China will continue to be warm and humid over the next few decades. In this paper, eight CMIP6 models were employed to investigate temperature and precipitation changes under five principal Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) scenarios (from 2015 to 2099) to project the future warming and humidification in Northwest China using the SPEI (standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index) method. The results revealed that (1) the simulated temperature and precipitation of eight CMIP6 models were consistent with that of observed data during 1961–2014, which showed an increase of approximately 28.2 mm, while simulated data revealed an increase of approximately 9.4 mm. The annual precipitation gradually decreased from Eastern Inner Mongolia and the Southern Northwest Mongolia region (>700 mm) to the Central Northwest Mongolia region (<100 mm) from 1961 to 2014; (2) the MME significantly overestimated the temperature and slightly underestimated the precipitation in Northwest Mongolia. The temperature difference between the simulated and observed data was approximately 0.4 °C. The observed data showed an increase of approximately 0.9 °C from 1961 to 2014, whereas the simulated data revealed an increase of approximately 0.7 °C; (3) in the SSP5-8.5 scenario, the percentage of precipitation anomalies at 1.5, 2, 3, and 4 °C were 166.64, 190.58, 226.44, and 274.56%, respectively; thus, alleviating the drought situation while facilitating the warm-dry to warm-wet climate transition; (4) the water balance between rising temperatures and increased evapotranspiration resulting from increased precipitation suggested that not all sites will be wet in the future. There was still a drying trend in some areas, where drought was more severe under the high emissions scenario than the low emissions scenario.

  • The bias-corrected CMIP6 models sufficiently captured the spatial patterns of temperature and precipitation in China from 1961 to 2014, and the transition from warm-dry to warm-wet in Northwest China can be simulated by MME.

  • Due to the uncertainty of the model results, the future climate change in Northwest China is quite uncertain and needs further study.

Graphical Abstract

Graphical Abstract
Graphical Abstract
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