The role of land use change in the recent warming of daily extreme temperatures

Nikolaos Christidis, Peter A. Stott, Gabriele C. Hegerl, Richard A. Betts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding how temperature extremes respond in a climate forced by human activity is of great importance, as extreme temperatures are detrimental to health and often responsible for mortality increases. While previous detection and attribution studies demonstrated a significant human influence on the recent warming of daily extremes, contributions of individual anthropogenic forcings like changes in land use have not yet been investigated in such studies. Here we apply an optimal fingerprinting technique to data from observations and experiments with a new earth system model to examine whether changing land use has led to detectable changes in daily extreme temperatures on a quasi-global scale. We find that loss of trees and increase of grassland since preindustrial times has caused an overall cooling trend in both mean and extreme temperatures which is detectable in the observed changes of warm but not cold extremes. The warming in both mean and extreme temperatures due to anthropogenic forcings other than land use is detected in all cases, whereas the weaker effect of natural climatic forcings is not detected in any. This is the first formal attribution of observed climatic changes to changing land use, suggesting further investigations are justified, particularly in studies of warm extremes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-594
Number of pages6
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2013


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