Shifting patterns of temperature volatility in the climate system

In recent decades there has been increased variability in yearly temperature records for large parts of Europe and North America, according to a study published online on 24 July 2013 in Nature.

Climate PatternThe study was carried out by scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the University of East Anglia and the University of Exeter.

Lead author Dr Chris Huntingford from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, “Fluctuations in annual average temperatures have shown very substantial geographical alteration in recent decades. However, to our surprise, when considered across the globe, total variability has been relatively stable.”

Co-author Professor Phil Jones, from the University of East Anglia said, “We used globally-complete surface temperature data that has been constructed by merging observations and weather forecasts, and verified our findings against station temperature records”.

The study concluded that regions of high variability have moved markedly over the last five decades, including to areas of high population in Europe and North America. Dr Huntingford added, “The movement of raised temperature variability to regions of high population may have contributed to the general perception that climate is becoming more volatile.”

The study also examined future projections by 17 climate model simulations. Almost all predict that overall temperature fluctuations will actually decrease towards the end of this century, as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

Co-author Professor Peter Cox, from the University of Exeter said, “We provide evidence that decreasing global temperature variability will be a consequence of major sea-ice loss in a warmer world.”

Dr Huntingford added, “Our findings contradict the sometimes stated view that a warming world will automatically be one of more overall climatic variation.”

Technical note – The analysis looked at year-to-year variability in temperature at different geographical locations. This variability is occurring around general global warming trends. These trends were subtracted from the actual temperature measurements, and the remaining “anomalies” analyzed for changes over time and space.

This research was supported by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences programme “Mathematical and Statistical Approaches to Climate Modelling and Prediction”, USDoE (Grant DE-SC0005689) and NERC (Grant NE/F005474/1).

Reference: Chris Huntingford, Philip D Jones, Valerie Livina, Timothy M Lentonand Peter M Cox 'No increase in global temperature variability despitechanging regional patterns' will be published in Nature on 24 July 2013. The DOI for this paper will be 10.1038/nature12310

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) is the UK's Centre of Excellence for integrated research in the land and freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with the atmosphere. CEH is part of the Natural Environment Research Council, employs more than 450 people at four major sites in England, Scotland and Wales, hosts over 150 PhD students, and has an overall budget of about £35m. CEH tackles complex environmental challenges to deliver practicable solutions so that future generations can benefit from a rich and healthy environment.

Press release issued by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, UK

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