Letter | Published:

Recent temperature extremes at high northern latitudes unprecedented in the past 600 years

Nature volume 496, pages 201205 (11 April 2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

Recently observed extreme temperatures at high northern latitudes1,2,3,4,5,6,7 are rare by definition, making the longer time span afforded by climate proxies important for assessing how the frequency of such extremes may be changing. Previous reconstructions of past temperature variability have demonstrated that recent warmth is anomalous relative to preceding centuries2,8,9 or millennia10, but extreme events can be more thoroughly evaluated using a spatially resolved approach that provides an ensemble of possible temperature histories11,12. Here, using a hierarchical Bayesian analysis13,14 of instrumental, tree-ring, ice-core and lake-sediment records, we show that the magnitude and frequency of recent warm temperature extremes at high northern latitudes are unprecedented in the past 600 years. The summers of 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011 were warmer than those of all prior years back to 1400 (probability P > 0.95), in terms of the spatial average. The summer of 2010 was the warmest in the previous 600 years in western Russia (P > 0.99) and probably the warmest in western Greenland and the Canadian Arctic as well (P > 0.90). These and other recent extremes greatly exceed those expected from a stationary climate, but can be understood as resulting from constant space–time variability about an increased mean temperature.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    et al. Was there a basis for anticipating the 2010 Russian heat wave? Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L06702 (2011)

  2. 2.

    , , , & The hot summer of 2010: redrawing the temperature record map of Europe. Science 332, 220–224 (2011)

  3. 3.

    & Increase of extreme events in a warming world. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 17905–17909 (2011)

  4. 4.

    , , , & Reconciling two approaches to attribution of the 2010 Russian heat wave. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L04702 (2012)

  5. 5.

    et al. Large surface meltwater discharge from the Kangerlussuaq sector of the Greenland ice sheet during the record-warm year 2010 explained by detailed energy balance observations. Cryosphere 6, 199–209 (2012)

  6. 6.

    et al. The role of albedo and accumulation in the 2010 melting record in Greenland. Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 014005 (2011)

  7. 7.

    & The Arctic. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 92, S143–S160 (2011)

  8. 8.

    et al. Arctic environmental change of the last four centuries. Science 278, 1251–1256 (1997)

  9. 9.

    , , , & European seasonal and annual temperature variability, trends, and extremes since 1500. Science 303, 1499–1503 (2004)

  10. 10.

    et al. Recent warming reverses long-term Arctic cooling. Science 325 1236–1239 (2009) ; correction 327, 644 (2010)

  11. 11.

    National Research Council. Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2000 Years (National Academies Press, 2006)

  12. 12.

    et al. Piecing together the past: statistical insights into paleoclimatic reconstructions. Quat. Sci. Rev. 35, 1–22 (2012)

  13. 13.

    & A Bayesian algorithm for reconstructing climate anomalies in space and time. Part 1: development and applications to paleoclimate reconstruction problems. J. Clim. 23, 2759–2781 (2010)

  14. 14.

    & A Bayesian algorithm for reconstructing climate anomalies in space and time. Part 2: comparison with the regularized expectation-maximization algorithm. J. Clim. 23, 2782–2800 (2010)

  15. 15.

    , & Trend assessment in a long memory dependence model using the discrete wavelet transform. Environmetrics 15, 313–335 (2004)

  16. 16.

    , & The ‘hockey stick’ and the 1990s: a statistical perspective on reconstructing hemispheric temperatures. Tellus A 59, 591–598 (2007)

  17. 17.

    & A statistical analysis of multiple temperature proxies: are reconstructions of surface temperatures over the last 1000 years reliable? Ann. Appl. Stat. 5, 5–44 (2011)

  18. 18.

    & Reconstruction of the extra-tropical NH mean temperature over the last millennium with a method that preserves low-frequency variability. J. Clim. 24, 6013–6034 (2011)

  19. 19.

    & The extra-tropical northern hemisphere temperature in the last two millennia: reconstructions of low-frequency variability. Clim. Past 8, 765–786 (2012)

  20. 20.

    , , & Bayesian Data Analysis 2nd edn (Chapman and Hall/CRC, 2003)

  21. 21.

    , & Long-lead prediction of Pacific SSTs via Bayesian dynamic modeling. J. Clim. 13, 3953–3968 (2000)

  22. 22.

    , & A pseudoproxy evaluation of Bayesian hierarchical modeling and canonical correlation analysis for climate field reconstructions over Europe. J. Clim. 26, 3. 851–867 (2013)

  23. 23.

    , , , & Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new data set from 1850. J. Geophys. Res. 2, 99–113 (2006)

  24. 24.

    , & Perception of climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, E2415–E2423 (2012)

  25. 25.

    et al. Reduced sensitivity of recent tree-growth to temperature at high northern latitudes. Nature 391, 678–682 (1998)

  26. 26.

    IPCC. in Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (eds et al.) 1–19 (A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012)

  27. 27.

    & Frequent summer temperature extremes reflect changes in the mean, not the variance. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, E546 (2013)

  28. 28.

    A Bayesian ANOVA scheme for calculating climate anomalies, with applications to the instrumental temperature record. J. Clim. 25, 777–791 (2012)

  29. 29.

    , & Simultaneous confidence bands for penalized spline estimators. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 105, 852–863 (2010)

  30. 30.

    , & Volcanic forcing of climate over the past 1500 years: an improved ice core-based index for climate models. J. Geophys. Res. D 113, D23111 (2009)

  31. 31.

    et al. The global land data assimilation system. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 85, 381–394 (2004)

  32. 32.

    et al. Tree-ring width and density data around the northern hemisphere: part 1, local and regional climate signals. Holocene 12, 737–757 (2002)

  33. 33.

    et al. Tree-ring width and density data around the northern hemisphere: part 2, spatio-temporal variability and associated climate patterns. Holocene 12, 759–789 (2002)

  34. 34.

    Summer temperatures during the medieval warm period and little ice age inferred from varved proglacial lake sediments in southern Alaska. J. Paleolimnol. 41, 117–128 (2009)

  35. 35.

    et al. Reconstructed changes in Arctic sea ice over the past 1,450 years. Nature 479, 509–512 (2011)

  36. 36.

    et al. The Mt Logan Holocene–late Wisconsinan isotope record: tropical Pacific–Yukon connections. Holocene 18, 667–677 (2008)

  37. 37.

    et al. Climate oscillations as recorded in Svalbard ice core δ18O records between 1200–1997 AD. Geogr. Ann. A 87, 203–214 (2005)

  38. 38.

    Isaksson, E. et al. Svalbard Ice Cores 600 Year Annual δ18O Data (IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology, Data Contribution Series no. 2011-068. NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder 2011); available online at ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/paleo/icecore/polar/svalbard/svalbard2005d18o.txt.

  39. 39.

    et al. Penny ice cap cores, Baffin Island, Canada, and the Wisconsinan Foxe Dome connection: two states of Hudson Bay ice cover. Science 279, 692–695 (1998)

  40. 40.

    et al. Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci.. USA 105, 13252–13257 (2008)

  41. 41.

    Comparison of 105 years of oxygen isotope and insoluble impurity profiles from the Devon Island and Camp Century ice cores. Quat. Res. 11, 299–305 (1979)

  42. 42.

    et al. Bayesian palaeoclimate reconstruction. J. R. Stat. Soc. A 169, 395–438 (2006)

  43. 43.

    , & The value of multi-proxy reconstruction of past climate. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 105, 883–895 (2010)

  44. 44.

    , & Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries. Nature 392, 779–787 (1998)

  45. 45.

    Analysis of incomplete climate data: estimation of mean values and covariance matrices and imputation of missing values. J. Clim. 14, 853–871 (2001)

  46. 46.

    , , & A pseudoproxy evaluation of the CCA and RegEM methods for reconstructing climate fields of the last millennium. J. Clim. 23, 4856–4880 (2010)

  47. 47.

    , & A surrogate ensemble study of sea level reconstructions. J. Clim. 23, 4306–4326 (2010)

  48. 48.

    Reconstructing the NH mean temperature: can underestimation of trends and variability be avoided? J. Clim. 24, 674–692 (2011)

  49. 49.

    & Comments on ‘Reconstructing the NH mean temperature: can underestimation of trends and variability be avoided?’. J. Clim. 25, 3441–3446 (2012)

  50. 50.

    Reply to “Comments on ‘Reconstructing the NH mean temperature: can underestimation of trends and variability be avoided?’”. J. Clim. 25, 3447–3452 (2012)

  51. 51.

    , & Evaluation of proxy-based millennial reconstruction methods. Clim. Dyn. 31, 263–281 (2008)

  52. 52.

    Separable approximations of space–time covariance matrices. Environmetrics 18, 681–695 (2007)

  53. 53.

    , , & On the ‘Divergence problem’ in northern forests: a review of the tree-ring evidence and possible causes. Glob. Planet. Change 60, 289–305 (2008)

  54. 54.

    Interpretation of rank histograms for verifying ensemble forecasts. Mon. Weath. Rev. 129, 550–560 (2001)

Download references

Acknowledgements

Data analysis was performed on the Odyssey cluster supported by the FAS Science Division Research Computing Group at Harvard University. Funding for this work was provided in part by NSF grant ATM-0902374. We thank E. Butler, P. Craigmile, N. Cressie, M. Haran, B. Li, E. Mannshardt, K. McKinnon, D. Nychka, B. Rajaratnam, A. Rhines, D. Schrag and A. Stine for comments and discussions.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Martin P. Tingley
    •  & Peter Huybers

Authors

  1. Search for Martin P. Tingley in:

  2. Search for Peter Huybers in:

Contributions

M.P.T. performed the analysis. Both authors contributed to the design of the analysis, the interpretation of results, and preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Martin P. Tingley.

Data and code are available from NOAA Paleoclimatology at ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/paleo/contributions_by_author/tingley2013/.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-53 with legends, Supplementary Tables 1-6, Supplementary Discussion and additional references.

Zip files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data 1

    This file contains the instrumental data sets used in the analysis, in both original form and standardized as described in the Methods, in Matlab and .txt formats. Also included is a short ReadMe document that describes the data files.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Data 2

    This file contains the tree ring density data sets used in the analysis, in both original form and standardized as described in the Methods, in Matlab and .txt formats. Also included is a short ReadMe document that describes the data files.

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Data 3

    This file contains the varve data sets used in the analysis, in both original form and standardized as described in the Methods, in Matlab and .txt formats. Also included is a short ReadMe document that describes the data files.

  4. 4.

    Supplementary Data 4

    This file contains the ice core data sets used in the analysis, in both original form and standardized as described in the Methods, in Matlab and .txt formats. Also included is a short ReadMe document that describes the data files.We are unable to host the Supplementary Code and Model output files and these can be found at the following link:- ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/paleo/contributions_by_author/tingley2013/tingley2013.zipThese files contain a number of model outputs, available, where possible, in both Matlab and .txt formats. Also included are a number of Matlab scripts that manipulate the model output to reproduce the main features of the analysis, and a short ReadMe document that describes the data and files.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11969

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.