Letter | Published:

Pace of shifts in climate regions increases with global temperature

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 739743 (2013) | Download Citation



Human-induced climate change causes significant changes in local climates1,2, which in turn lead to changes in regional climate zones. Large shifts in the world distribution of Köppen–Geiger climate classifications by the end of this century have been projected3. However, only a few studies have analysed the pace of these shifts in climate zones4,5, and none has analysed whether the pace itself changes with increasing global mean temperature. In this study, pace refers to the rate at which climate zones change as a function of amount of global warming. Here we show that present climate projections suggest that the pace of shifting climate zones increases approximately linearly with increasing global temperature. Using the RCP8.5 emissions pathway, the pace nearly doubles by the end of this century and about 20% of all land area undergoes a change in its original climate. This implies that species will have increasingly less time to adapt to Köppen zone changes in the future, which is expected to increase the risk of extinction5.

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We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We also thank U. Beyerle, J. Sedlacek and T. Corti for downloading and regridding the model data.

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    • Irina Mahlstein

    Present address: MeteoSwiss, 8044 Zurich, Switzerland


  1. Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, 80309 Boulder, Colorado, USA

    • Irina Mahlstein
  2. Chemical Sciences Division, Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 325 Broadway - R/CSD8, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

    • Irina Mahlstein
    •  & John S. Daniel
  3. Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Susan Solomon


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I.M., J.S.D. and S.S. designed the study; I.M. did all the analysis shown in the study; I.M., J.S.D. and S.S. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Irina Mahlstein.

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