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Trends in high-frequency climate variability in the twentieth century


HIGH-FREQUENCY climate variability is a fundamental aspect of climate. Understanding climate change demands attention to changes in climate variability and extremes1, but knowledge of the recent behaviour of these variables has been limited by the unavailability of long-term high-resolution data. Climate simulations incorporating increased greenhouse-gas concentrations2-9 indicate that a warmer climate could result in a decrease in high-frequency temperature variability (analogous to the decrease in variability observed from the poles to the tropics, and from winter to summer10) and an increase in the proportion of precipitation occurring in extreme events. Here we analyse high-frequency temperature and precipitation data from hundreds of sites spread over Australia, China, the former Soviet Union and the United States over the past 30 to 80 years. Day-to-day temperature variability is seen to have decreased in the Northern Hemisphere, and-at least within the United States-the proportion of total precipitation contributed by extreme, one-day events has increased significantly. We find that although the notion of a recent increase in interannual temperature variability is supported by data from the past few decades11, the longer data records indicate that this trend is an aberration.

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Karl, T., Knight, R. & Plummer, N. Trends in high-frequency climate variability in the twentieth century. Nature 377, 217–220 (1995).

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