Nature 443, 205-209 (14 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05095; Received 12 December 2005; Accepted 20 July 2006

Land–atmosphere coupling and climate change in Europe

Sonia I. Seneviratne1, Daniel Lüthi1, Michael Litschi1 and Christoph Schär1

Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are expected to enhance the interannual variability of summer climate in Europe1, 2, 3 and other mid-latitude regions4, 5, potentially causing more frequent heatwaves1, 3, 5, 6. Climate models consistently predict an increase in the variability of summer temperatures in these areas, but the underlying mechanisms responsible for this increase remain uncertain. Here we explore these mechanisms using regional simulations of recent and future climatic conditions with and without land–atmosphere interactions. Our results indicate that the increase in summer temperature variability predicted in central and eastern Europe is mainly due to feedbacks between the land surface and the atmosphere. Furthermore, they suggest that land–atmosphere interactions increase climate variability in this region because climatic regimes in Europe shift northwards in response to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, creating a new transitional climate zone with strong land–atmosphere coupling in central and eastern Europe. These findings emphasize the importance of soil-moisture–temperature feedbacks (in addition to soil-moisture–precipitation feedbacks7, 8, 9, 10) in influencing summer climate variability and the potential migration of climate zones with strong land–atmosphere coupling7, 11 as a consequence of global warming. This highlights the crucial role of land–atmosphere interactions in future climate change.

  1. Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Universitätsstrasse 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Correspondence to: Sonia I. Seneviratne1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to S.I.S. (Email: sonia.seneviratne@env.ethz.ch).


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