Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Disruption of the European climate seasonal clock in a warming world

Abstract

Temperatures over Europe are largely driven by the strength and inland penetration of the oceanic westerly flow. The wind influence depends on season: blocked westerlies, linked to high-pressure anomalies over Scandinavia, induce cold episodes in winter1 but warm conditions in summer2,3. Here, we propose to define the onset of the two seasons as the calendar day on which the daily circulation/temperature relationship switches sign. We have assessed this meteorologically based metric using several observational data sets and we provide evidence for an earlier onset of the summer date by 10 days between the 1960s and 2000s. Results from a climate model show that internal variability alone cannot explain this calendar advance. Rather, the earlier onset can be partly attributed to anthropogenic forcings. The modification of the zonal advection due to earlier disappearance of winter snow over Eastern Europe, which reduces the degree to which climate has continental properties, is mainly responsible for the present-day and near-future advance of the summer date in Western Europe. Our findings are in line with phenological-based trends (earlier spring events) reported for many living species over Europe4,5,6, for which we provide an alternative interpretation to the traditionally evoked local warming effect. Based on the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 scenario, which assumes that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise throughout the twenty-first century, a summer advance of 20 days compared with pre-industrial climate is expected by 2100, whereas no clear signal arises for winter onset.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Definition of the meteorological dynamical indices and assessment of the circulation–temperature seasonal relationships.
Figure 2: Seasonal clocks.
Figure 3: Changes in the statistical distribution of daily pressure and temperature anomalies over Europe at the end of the twenty-first century based on the RCP8.5 emission scenario.
Figure 4: Calendar change of the date of the summer onset under warming climate.
Figure 5: Physical processes involved in the summertime seasonal shift.

References

  1. 1

    Sillmann, J., Croci-Maspoli, M., Kallache, M. & Katz, R. Extreme cold winter temperatures in Europe under the influence of North Atlantic atmospheric blocking. J. Clim. 24, 5899–5913 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Cassou, C., Terray, L. & Philips, A. S. Tropical influence on European heatwaves. J. Clim. 18, 2805–2811 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Schneidereit, A. et al. Large scale flow and the long-lasting blocking high over Russia: summer 2010. Mon. Weath. Rev. 140, 2967–2981 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Menzel, A. et al. European phenological response to climate change matches the warming pattern. Glob. Change Biol. 12, 1969–1976 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Thackeray, S. J. et al. Trophic level asynchrony in rates of phenological change for marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. Glob. Change Biol. 16, 3304–3313 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Settele, J. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability 271–359 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Chang, E. K. M., Lee, S. & Swanson, K. L. Storm track dynamics. J. Clim. 15, 2163–2183 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Wettstein, J. & Wallace, J. M. Observed patterns of month-to-month storm-track variability and their relationship to the background flow. J. Atmos. Sci. 67, 1420–1437 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Barnston, A. G. & Livezey, R. E. Classification, seasonality and persistence of low-frequency atmospheric circulation patterns. Mon. Weath. Rev. 115, 1083–1126 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Rex, D. F. Blocking action in the middle troposphere and its effect upon regional climate. II. The climatology of blocking action. Tellus 2, 275–301 (1950).

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Pelly, J. L. & Hoskins, B. J. A new perspective on blocking. J. Atmos. Sci. 60, 743–755 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Slonosky, V. C., Jones, P. D. & Davies, T. D. Atmospheric circulation and surface temperature in Europe from the 18th century to 1995. Int. J. Climatol. 21, 63–75 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Haylock, M. R. et al. A European daily high-resolution gridded dataset of surface temperature and precipitation. J. Geophys. Res. 113, D20119 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Voldoire, A. et al. The CNRM-CM5.1 global climate model: description and basic evaluation. Clim. Dynam. 40, 2091–2121 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Collins, M. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis 1029–1136 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    De Vries, H., Haarsma, R. J. & Hazelger, W. Western European cold spells in current and future climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L04706 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Sutton, R. T., Dong, B. & Gregory, J. M. Land/sea warming ratio in response to climate change: IPCC AR4 model results and comparison with observations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L02701 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Fischer, E. M., Lawrence, D. M. & Sanderson, B. M. Quantifying uncertainties in projections of extremes—a perturbed land surface parameter experiment. Clim. Dynam. 37, 1381–1398 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Fischer, E. M., Rajczak, J. & Schär, C. Changes in European summer temperature variability revisited. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L19702 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Boé, J. & Terray, L. Land–sea contrast, soil-atmosphere and cloud-temperature interactions: interplays and roles in future summer European climate change. Clim. Dynam. 42, 683–699 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Cattiaux, J., Douville, H., Schoetter, R., Parey, S. & Yiou, P. Projected increase in diurnal and interdiurnal variations of European summer temperatures. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 899–907 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Kirbyshire, A. L. & Bigg, G. R. Is the onset of English summer advancing? Climatic Change 100, 419–431 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Stine, A. P., Huyberts, P. & Fung, I. Changes in the phase of the annual cycle of surface temperature. Nature 457, 435–440 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Trenberth, K. E. What are the seasons? Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 64, 1276–1282 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Sparks, T. & Menzel, A. Observed changes in seasons: an overview. Int. J. Climatol. 22, 1715–1725 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Pena-Ortiz, C., Barriopedro, D. B. & Garcia-Herrera, R. Multidecadal variability of the summer length in Europe. J. Clim. 28, 5375–5388 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Rutishauser, T., Luterbacher, J., Jeanneret, F., Pfister, C. & Wanner, H. A phenology-based reconstruction of interannual changes in past spring seasons. J. Geophys. Res. 112, G04016 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Robinson, D. A. & Estilow, T. W. NOAA CDR Program: NOAA Climate Date Record (CDR) of Northern Hemisphere (NH) Snow Cover Extent (SCE) Version 1.1 (NOAA National Climatic Data Center, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Menzel, A., Estrella, N. & Testka, A. Temperature response rates from long-term phenological records. Clim. Res. 30, 21–28 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors thank the CNRM-Cerfacs group for the development of the CNRM-CM5 model and for producing the CMIP5 simulations. C.C. is indebted to L. Coquart and M.-P. Moine for making available the outputs at Cerfacs and J. Boé for helpful discussions. The figures were produced with the NCAR Command Language Software (http://dx.doi.org/10.5065/D6WD3XH5). Both C.C. and J.C. are supported by CNRS and by the MORDICUS grant under contract ANR-13-SENV-0002-01.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

C.C. designed the study and performed the analyses. Both authors discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christophe Cassou.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 2007 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cassou, C., Cattiaux, J. Disruption of the European climate seasonal clock in a warming world. Nature Clim Change 6, 589–594 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2969

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing