Guest Contribution by Juerg Luterbacher, University of Bern, Switzerland
While the anomalous nature of recent trends in global average temperature is often highlighted in discussions of climate change, changes at regional scales have potentially greater societal significance. Of particular interest, for example, is the possible relationship between climate change and the incidence of summer heat waves [Meehl, G.A. and C. Tebaldi, Science, 305, 994-997 , 2004] such as those observed in Europe during summer 2003 [see Schaer et al, Nature 427, 332-336 2004; Stott et al, Nature, 432, 610-614, 2004]. Preliminary analyses of the annual mean surface air temperatures for Europe for 2004 show it be among the few warmest (though not as warm as 1989, 1990, and 1999-2003) since widespread instrumental records have been kept (roughly the past 150 years). 2004 exceeded the reference period (1961-1990) mean temperature by more than 0.8°C. The largest deviations were found over Northern and Eastern Europe. Every single month of 2004 contributed to the overall warmth; February-April, August, October and December were all more than 1°C warmer than the 1961-1990 period. Annual mean European surface air temperatures have increased by around 0.85°C over the last 100 years. The upward trend has accelerated in recent decades, with about 1.2°C of warming taking place over the past 30 years (1975 to 2004). Indeed, the last thirty years likely represent the warmest multidecadal period for Europe in at least the past half millennium [ Luterbacher, J., Dietrich, D., Xoplaki, E., Grosjean, M. and H. Wanner, Science, 303, 1499-1503, 2004], while the last decade (1995-2004) is likely the warmest decade, and summer 2003 the warmest summer. These conclusions are similar to those reached for the entire Northern Hemisphere on the whole.