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JOURNAL ARTICLE

The role of increasing temperature variability in European summer heatwaves

Christoph Schär, Pier Luigi Vidale, Daniel Lüthi, Christoph Frei, Christian Häberli, Mark A Liniger, Christof Appenzeller
Nature 2004 January 22, 427 (6972): 332-6
14716318
Instrumental observations and reconstructions of global and hemispheric temperature evolution reveal a pronounced warming during the past approximately 150 years. One expression of this warming is the observed increase in the occurrence of heatwaves. Conceptually this increase is understood as a shift of the statistical distribution towards warmer temperatures, while changes in the width of the distribution are often considered small. Here we show that this framework fails to explain the record-breaking central European summer temperatures in 2003, although it is consistent with observations from previous years. We find that an event like that of summer 2003 is statistically extremely unlikely, even when the observed warming is taken into account. We propose that a regime with an increased variability of temperatures (in addition to increases in mean temperature) may be able to account for summer 2003. To test this proposal, we simulate possible future European climate with a regional climate model in a scenario with increased atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations, and find that temperature variability increases by up to 100%, with maximum changes in central and eastern Europe.

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