Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting 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.

Influence of human and natural forcing on European seasonal temperatures


It is the regional and seasonal expression of climate change that determines the effect of greenhouse warming on ecosystemsand society1. Whereas anthropogenic influences on European temperatures have been detected over the twentieth century2,3, it has been suggested that the impact of external influences on European temperatures before 1900 is negligible4. Here we use reconstructions of seasonal European land temperature5,6 and simulations with three global climate models7,8,9 to show that external influences on climate—such as the concentrations of stratospheric volcanic aerosols or greenhouse gases, other anthropogenic effects and possibly changes in total solar irradiance—have had a discernible influence on European temperatures throughout the past five centuries. In particular, we find that external forcing contributes significantly (p<5%) to the reconstructed long-term variability of winter and spring temperatures and that it is responsible for a best guess of 75% of the observed winter warming since the late seventeenth century. This warming is largely attributable to greenhouse-gas forcing. Summer temperatures show detectable (p<5%) interdecadal variations in response to external forcing before 1900 only. Finally, throughout the record we detect highly significant summer cooling and significant winter warming following volcanic eruptions.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Comparison between simulated and reconstructed European temperature anomalies (K with respect to the 1961–1990 climatology).
Figure 2: Results from detection and attribution analysis of European mean temperatures.
Figure 3: Detection of fingerprints for volcanic forcing.


  1. 1

    Parry, M. L., Canziani, O. F., Palutikof, J. P., van der Linden, P. J. &Hanson, C. E. (eds) IPCC Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability 976 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007) (

  2. 2

    Stott, P. Attribution of regional-scale temperature changes to anthropogenic and natural causes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 1728–1731 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Hegerl, G. C. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (ed. Solomon, S.) 663–745 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Bengtsson, L., Hodges, K. I., Roeckner, E. & Brokopf, R. On the natural variability of the pre-industrial European climate. Clim. Dyn. 27, 734–760 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Luterbacher, J., Dietrich, D., Xoplaki, E., Grosjean, M. & Wanner, H. European seasonal and annual temperature variability, trends and extremes since 1500. Science 303, 1499–1503 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Xoplaki, E. et al. European spring and autumn temperature variability and change of extremes over the last half millennium. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L15713 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Zorita, E. et al. Climate evolution in the last five centuries simulated by an atmosphere–ocean model: Global temperatures, the North Atlantic oscillation and the Late Maunder minimum. Meteorol. Z. 13, 271–289 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Tett, S. F. B. et al. The impact of natural and anthropogenic forcings on climate and hydrology since 1550. Clim. Dyn. 28, 3–34 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Ammann, C. et al. Solar influence on climate during the past millennium: Results from transient simulations with the NCAR Climate System Model. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 3713–3718 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Christidis, N., Stott, P. A., Jones, G. S., Shiogama, H., Nozawa, T. & Luterbacher, J. 2010: Human activity and warm seasons in Europe. Int. J. Climatol. 10.1002/joc.2262 (in the press).

  11. 11

    Jones, P. et al. High-resolution palaeoclimatology of the last millennium: A review of current status and future prospects. Holocene 19, 3–49 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Mann, M. et al. Global signatures and dynamical origins of the Little Ice Age and Medieval Climate Anomaly. Science 326, 1256–1260 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Shindell, D., Schmidt, G., Miller, R. & Mann, M. Volcanic and solar forcing of climate change during the preindustrial era. J. Clim. 16, 4094–4107 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Zorita, E., González-Rouco, J. F., von Storch, H., Montávez, J. P. & Valero, F. Natural and anthropogenic modes of surface temperature variations in the last thousand years. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L08707 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Hegerl, G. C. et al. Detection of human influence on a new 1500 yr climate reconstruction. J. Clim. 20, 650–666 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Küttel, M. et al. Testing a European winter surface temperature reconstruction in a surrogate climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L07710 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Lee, T. C. K., Zwiers, F. W. & Tsao, M. Evaluation of millennial proxy reconstruction methods. Clim. Dyn. 31, 263–281 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    González-Rouco, J. F., von Storch, H. & Zorita, E. Deep soil temperature as a proxy for surface air-temperature in a coupled model simulation of the last thousand years. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 2116–2119 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Hegerl, G. C., Crowley, T. J., Baum, S. K., Kim, K. Y. & Hyde, W. T. Detection of volcanic, solar and greenhouse gas signals in paleo-reconstructions of Northern Hemispheric temperature. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 1242–1245 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Goosse, H. et al. The origin of the medieval warm period. Clim. Past 2, 99–113 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Fischer, E. M. et al. European climate response to tropical volcanic eruptions over the last half millennium. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L05707 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Weber, S. L., Crowley, T. J. & van der Schrier, G. Solar irradiance forcing of centennial climate variability during the Holocene. Clim. Dyn. 22, 539–553 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Crowley, T. J. et al. Volcanism and the little ice age. PAGES News 16, 22–23 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Yoshimori, M., Stocker, T. F., Raible, C. C. & Renold, M. Externally forced and internal variability in ensemble climate simulations of the Maunder minimum. J. Clim. 18, 4253–4270 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Allen, M. R. & Stott, P. A. Estimating signal amplitudes in optimal fingerprinting, Part I: Theory. Clim. Dyn. 21, 477–491 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Hegerl, G. C., Crowley, T. J., Hyde, W. T. & Frame, D. Climate sensitivity constrained by temperature reconstructions of the last seven centuries. Nature 440, 1029–1032 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Lean, J. L., Wang, Y. M. & Sheeley, N. R. The effect of increasing solar activity on the Sun’s total and open magnetic flux during multiple cycles: Implications for solar forcing of climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 2224–2227 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Crowley, T. J. Causes of climate change over the past 1000 years. Science 289, 270–277 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Hegerl, G. C. & Allen, M. R. Origins of model-data discrepancies in optimal fingerprinting. J. Clim. 15, 1348–1356 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Brohan, P., Kennedy, J. J., Harris, I, Tett, S. F. B. & Jones, P. D. Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: A new dataset from 1850. J. Geophys. Res. 111, D12106 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank E. Zorita and C. Ammann for help with data from the ECHO-G and CCSM models. We thank A. Schurer, A. Bozzo and M. Küttel for comments and discussion and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. The publication was supported by NSF grant ATM-0296007, NERC grant NE/G019819/1 and NCAS. E.X. and J.L. acknowledge support by the EU/FP6 integrated project CIRCE (NO036961) and from the EU/FP7 project ACQWA (NO212250). J.L. also acknowledges support from the DFG Projects PRIME (‘Precipitation in the past millennium in Europe’) within the Priority Programme ‘INTERDYNAMIK’ and ‘Historical climatology of the Middle East based on Arabic sources back to AD 800’.

Author information




G.H. and J.L. discussed and planned the work; G.H. carried out the analysis; J.L. and E.X. provided the reconstruction; F.G-R., E.X. and S.F.B.T. provided model data and comments/text, and T.C. provided his volcanic reconstructions and its interpretation as well as overall comments. All authors contributed to discussion, interpretation and writing of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gabriele Hegerl.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 995 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hegerl, G., Luterbacher, J., González-Rouco, F. et al. Influence of human and natural forcing on European seasonal temperatures. Nature Geosci 4, 99–103 (2011).

Download citation

Further reading


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