European summer temperatures since Roman times

Euro-Med2k Consortium

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The spatial context is critical when assessing present-day climate anomalies, attributing them to potential forcings and making statements regarding their frequency and severity in a long-term perspective. Recent international initiatives have expanded the number of high-quality proxyrecords and developed new statistical reconstruction methods. These advances allow more rigorous regional past temperature reconstructions and, in turn, the possibility of evaluating climate models on policy-relevant, spatio-temporal scales. Here we provide a new proxy-based, annually-resolved, spatial reconstruction of the European summer (June–August) temperature fields back to 755 CE
based on a Bayesian hierarchical modelling (BHM), together with estimates of the European mean temperature variation since 138 BCE based on Composite-plus-Scaling. Our reconstructions compare well with independent instrumental and proxy-based temperature estimates, but suggest a larger amplitude in summer temperature variability than previously reported. Both CPS and BHM
reconstructions indicate that the mean 20th century European summer temperatures was not significantly different from some earlier centuries, including the 1st, 2nd, 8th and 10th centuries AD. The 1st century (in BHM also the 10th century) may even have been slightly warmer than the 20th century, but the difference is not statistically significant. Comparing each 50-year period with the 1951-2000 period reveals a similar pattern. Recent summers, however, have been unusually warm in the context of the last two millennia and there are no 30-year periods in either reconstruction that exceed the mean average European summer temperature of the last 30 years (1986-2015 CE). A comparison with an ensemble of climate model simulations suggests that the
reconstructed European summer temperature variability over the period 850–2000 CE reflects changes in both internal variability and external forcing on multi-decadal time-scales. For pan- European temperatures we find slightly better agreement between the reconstruction and the model simulations with high-end estimates for total solar irradiance. Temperature differences between the medieval period, the recent period and Little Ice Age are larger in the reconstructions than the simulations. This may indicate either inflated variability of the reconstructions, a lack of sensitivity to external forcing on sub-hemispheric scales in the climate models and/or an underestimation of
internal variability on centennial and longer time scales including the representation of internal feedback mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2016


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