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Land–atmosphere coupling and climate change in Europe


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.

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Figure 1: Effects of land–atmosphere coupling on greenhouse-gas induced changes in interannual variability of summer two-metre temperature.
Figure 2: Importance of soil-moisture–temperature coupling in present and future climate in terms of two different coupling diagnostics.
Figure 3: Correlation of summer (June–August) evapotranspiration and temperature ( ρ ET,T2 m ) in the RCM and IPCC AR4 GCM experiments.
Figure 4: Effects of land–atmosphere coupling on greenhouse-gas-induced changes in interannual variability of summer precipitation.

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The computations were performed on the computing facilities of ETH Zurich and the Swiss Center for Scientific Computing (CSCS). We thank the Hadley Centre, UK, for providing access to their climate-change simulations, the PRUDENCE team for earlier interactions and model inter-comparisons (unperturbed simulations), the international modelling groups for providing the IPCC AR4 data through PCMDI, and the GFDL modelling group for access to the GFDL evapotranspiration fields. We acknowledge the JSC/CLIVAR Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) and their Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) and Climate Simulation Panel for organizing the IPCC model data analysis activity, and the IPCC WG1 TSU for technical support. We also thank our colleagues for comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (NCCR Climate) and by the sixth Framework Programme of the European Union (project ENSEMBLES).

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Correspondence to Sonia I. Seneviratne.

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Seneviratne, S., Lüthi, D., Litschi, M. et al. Land–atmosphere coupling and climate change in Europe. Nature 443, 205–209 (2006).

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