Recent geographic convergence in diurnal and annual temperature cycling flattens global thermal profiles


Warming mean temperatures over the past century1 have probably shifted distributions2, altered phenologies3, increased extinction risks4,5, and impacted agriculture6 and human health7. However, knowledge of mean temperatures alone does not provide a complete understanding either of changes in the climate itself or of how changing climate will affect organisms8,9,10,11. Temporal temperature variation, primarily driven by daily and annual temperature cycles, has profound effects on organism physiology8,9 and ecology12, yet changes in temperature cycling over the past 40 years are still poorly understood1,13. Here we estimate global changes in the magnitudes of diurnal and annual temperature cycles from 1975 to 2013 from an analysis of over 1.4 billion hourly temperature measurements from 7,906 weather stations. Increases in daily temperature variation since 1975 in polar (1.4 °C), temperate (1.0 °C) and tropical (0.3 °C) regions parallel increases in mean temperature. Concurrently, magnitudes of annual temperature cycles decreased by 0.6 °C in polar regions, increased by 0.4 °C in temperate regions, and remained largely unchanged in tropical regions. Stronger increases in daily temperature cycling relative to changes in annual temperature cycling in temperate and polar regions mean that, with respect to diurnal and annual cycling, the world is flattening as temperate and polar regions converge on tropical temperature cycling profiles.

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Figure 1: Global variation in temperature cycling.
Figure 2: Global anomalies in temperature cycling from 1975 to 2013.
Figure 3: Global convergence in daily relative to annual temperature cycling.


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G.W. was supported in part by NSF IOB-041684 awarded to R. B. Huey and in part by the Max Planck Institute via D. Weigel. M.E.D. was supported in part by an NSF Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship and by the University of Wyoming. R. J. Hijmans provided assistance with the shoreline distance algorithm. We gratefully acknowledge R. B. Huey, M. R. Frazier, T. L. Daniel, S. Sane, J. Theobald, B. Rowan, J. Edwards and C. Martinez del Rio for fruitful discussions and comments on early versions of the manuscript. Computational resources were provided by the MPI Tuebingen and the UW Department of Geology.

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G.W. and M.E.D. conceived the methodology. G.W. built the data set and processed the data. M.E.D. and G.W. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript.

Correspondence to George Wang.

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Wang, G., Dillon, M. Recent geographic convergence in diurnal and annual temperature cycling flattens global thermal profiles. Nature Clim Change 4, 988–992 (2014).

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