Progress Article

Continental-scale temperature variability during the past two millennia

Published online:


Past global climate changes had strong regional expression. To elucidate their spatio-temporal pattern, we reconstructed past temperatures for seven continental-scale regions during the past one to two millennia. The most coherent feature in nearly all of the regional temperature reconstructions is a long-term cooling trend, which ended late in the nineteenth century. At multi-decadal to centennial scales, temperature variability shows distinctly different regional patterns, with more similarity within each hemisphere than between them. There were no globally synchronous multi-decadal warm or cold intervals that define a worldwide Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age, but all reconstructions show generally cold conditions between ad 1580 and 1880, punctuated in some regions by warm decades during the eighteenth century. The transition to these colder conditions occurred earlier in the Arctic, Europe and Asia than in North America or the Southern Hemisphere regions. Recent warming reversed the long-term cooling; during the period ad 1971–2000, the area-weighted average reconstructed temperature was higher than any other time in nearly 1,400 years.

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Change history

  • Corrected online 26 April 2013

    In version of this Progress Article originally published, the authorship pseudonym was incorrectly stated as the PAGES 2k Network. The correct name is the PAGES 2k Consortium. This has been corrected in the PDF and HTML versions.

  • Corrected online 14 May 2013

    In the version of this Progress Article originally published, incorrect references were cited in the caption of Fig. 4a. The correct reference citation should read "5,43-45". This has been corrected in the PDF and HTML versions.

  • Corrected online 27 November 2015

    Since the original publication of this Progress Article, errors have been identified in the data set used for the Arctic temperature reconstruction. Corrections made to the Arctic data set are reflected in changes to this Progress Article as detailed in the associated Corrigendum (


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Support for PAGES activities is provided by the US and Swiss National Science Foundations, US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. All maps were kindly created by Alexander Hermann, Institute of Geography, University of Bern.

Author information

Author notes

    • Mohammed Umer



  1. Department of Botany, Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology, Karachi, 75300, Pakistan

    • Moinuddin Ahmed
  2. Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Kevin J. Anchukaitis
    • , Brendan M. Buckley
    • , Edward R. Cook
    •  & Jason E. Smerdon
  3. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 2543, USA

    • Kevin J. Anchukaitis
  4. School of Earth Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    • Asfawossen Asrat
    •  & Mohammed Umer
  5. Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, 411008, India

    • Hemant P. Borgaonkar
  6. Dipartimento di Matematica e Geoscienze, University of Trieste, 34128, Italy

    • Martina Braida
    •  & Barbara Stenni
  7. Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, 8903, Switzerland

    • Ulf Büntgen
    •  & Raphael Neukom
  8. Département Paléoenvironnements et Paléoclimats (PAL), Université Montpellier, Montpellier, 34095, France

    • Brian M. Chase
  9. Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen, Bergen, 5020, Norway

    • Brian M. Chase
  10. Laboratorio de Dendrocronología y Cambio Global, Universidad Austral de Chile, Casilla 567, Valdivia, Chile

    • Duncan A. Christie
    •  & Antonio Lara
  11. Center for Climate and Resilience Research, Universidad de Chile, Casilla 2777, Santiago, Chile

    • Duncan A. Christie
    •  & Antonio Lara
  12. Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia

    • Mark A. J. Curran
    • , Andrew D. Moy
    •  & Tas van Ommen
  13. Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, Tasmania 7005, Australia

    • Mark A. J. Curran
    • , Andrew D. Moy
    •  & Tas van Ommen
  14. Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

    • Henry F. Diaz
  15. Department of Geography, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, 55099, Germany

    • Jan Esper
  16. Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yunnan, 666303, China

    • Ze-Xin Fan
  17. Faculty of Science, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, Khumaltar, GPO Box 3323, Lalitpur, Nepal

    • Narayan P. Gaire
  18. Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100101, China

    • Quansheng Ge
    •  & Xuemei Shao
  19. School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

    • Joëlle Gergis
  20. Departamento Astrofísica y CC de la Atmósfera, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, 28040, Spain

    • J Fidel González-Rouco
  21. Lemaitre Center for Earth and Climate Research, Earth and Life Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348, Belgium

    • Hugues Goosse
  22. School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits, 2050, South Africa

    • Stefan W. Grab
    •  & David J. Nash
  23. Hydrologic Research Center, San Diego, California 92130, USA

    • Nicholas Graham
    •  & Rochelle Graham
  24. Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research & Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, 3012, Switzerland

    • Martin Grosjean
    •  & Heinz Wanner
  25. Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, 00014, Finland

    • Sami T. Hanhijärvi
    •  & Atte A. Korhola
  26. School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011, USA

    • Darrell S. Kaufman
    •  & Nicholas P. McKay
  27. International Project Office, Past Global Changes (PAGES), Bern, 3012, Switzerland

    • Thorsten Kiefer
    •  & Lucien von Gunten
  28. Department of Symbiotic System Science, Fukushima University, Fukushima, 960-1248, Japan

    • Katsuhiko Kimura
  29. Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, 106 91, Sweden

    • Paul J. Krusic
  30. Laboratoire d'Océanographie et du Climat: Expérimentations et Approches Numériques (LOCEAN), Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris cedex, 575252, France

    • Anne-Marie Lézine
  31. Department of History, Stockholm University, Stockholm, 106 91, Sweden

    • Fredrik C. Ljungqvist
  32. National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd., National Climate Centre Auckland, 1011, Zealand

    • Andrew M. Lorrey
  33. Department of Geography, Climatology, Climate Dynamics and Climate Change, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, 35390, Germany

    • Jürg Luterbacher
    •  & Johannes P. Werner
  34. Laboratoire des Science du Climat et de l'Environnement, Gif-sur-Yvette, 91 191, France

    • Valérie Masson-Delmotte
  35. Department of Geography, Swansea University, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK

    • Danny McCarroll
    •  & Maria R. Prieto
  36. Desert Research Institute, Nevada System of Higher Education, Reno, Nevada 89512, USA

    • Joseph R. McConnell
    •  & Michael Sigl
  37. Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias Ambientales (IANIGLA), CCT-CONICET-Mendoza, Mendoza, 5500, Argentina

    • Mariano S. Morales
    • , Ignacio A. Mundo
    •  & Ricardo Villalba
  38. British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK

    • Robert Mulvaney
  39. Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Nagoya University, Nagoya, 464.8601, Japan

    • Takeshi Nakatsuka
    •  & Masaki Sano
  40. School of Environment and Technology, University of Brighton, Brighton, BN2 4GJ, UK

    • David J. Nash
  41. Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32308, USA

    • Sharon E. Nicholson
  42. Department of Glaciology, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association, Bremerhaven, 27570, Germany

    • Hans Oerter
  43. College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4RJ, UK

    • Jonathan G. Palmer
  44. Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia

    • Jonathan G. Palmer
    • , Steven J. Phipps
    •  & Chris S.M. Turney
  45. ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia

    • Steven J. Phipps
  46. Centro de Estudios Cientificos, Valdivia, Chile

    • Andres Rivera
  47. Department of Chemistry 'Ugo Schiff', University of Florence, Sesto Fiorentino, 50019, Italy

    • Mirko Severi
  48. Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA

    • Timothy M. Shanahan
  49. LASG, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100029, China

    • Feng Shi
  50. Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 119017, Russia

    • Olga N. Solomina
  51. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Eric J. Steig
  52. National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research, Goa, 403 804, India

    • Meloth Thamban
  53. Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

    • Valerie Trouet
  54. Department of Biology, Ghent University, Ghent, 9000, Belgium

    • Dirk Verschuren
  55. Department of Geography, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, K1N 6N5, Canada

    • Andre E. Viau
  56. Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, 2100, Denmark

    • Bo M. Vinther
  57. Institute for Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Geesthacht, 21502, Germany

    • Sebastian Wagner
    •  & Eduardo Zorita
  58. National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

    • Eugene R. Wahl
  59. Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • James W.C. White
  60. Department of Forest Science, Shinshu University, Nagano, 399-4598, Japan

    • Koh Yasue


  1. PAGES 2k Consortium



    Writing teamg: D.S.K. led the synthesis; N.P.McK., E.Z. & S.T.H. performed the synthesis analyses; D.S.K., R.N., L.v.G., T.K., H.G., H.W., C.S.M.T., F.C.L., V.M-D., E.R.W., & T.v.O. prepared the manuscript. Africa: D.J.N., A.A., B.M.C., S.W.G., S.E.N., T.M.S, D.V., A-M.L., M.U. compiled and evaluated the proxy data. Antarctica: T.v.O, M.B., A.D.M., R.M., H.O., M.Se., B.S., E.J.S., M.T., J.W.C.W., M.A.J.C., J.R.McC., M.Si. & B.M.V. provided proxy data, contributed to their dating and interpretation; M.A.J.C., J.R.McC., M.Si. & B.M.V. correlated volcanic markers; T.v.O & R.N. produced the reconstruction; M.A.J.C. managed the data. Arctic: A.A.K., D.S.K. & S.T.H. coordinated the study. S.T.H, D.S.K. & F.C.L. collected and reviewed the proxy data; S.T.H. calculated the reconstruction and managed data. Asia: M.A., K.J.A., H.P.B., B.M.B.,Q.G., E.R.C., Z.F., N.P.G., K.K., P.J.K., T.N., J.G.P., M.Sa., X.S., O.N.S. & K.Y. contributed, collected and analysed the proxy data; K.J.A., B.M.B., E.R.C. & P.J.K. performed the reconstruction; T.N., M.Sa. & F.S. provided technical support and managed the data. Australasia: J.G., A.M.L., S.J.P. & R.N. coordinated the study. R.N. & J.G. collated, managed and analysed the proxy data; R.N. & J.G. developed the reconstruction with input from S.J.P. Europe: U.B., J.E., S.W., E.Z., D.McC., F.J.G.-R., F.C.L., J.E.S., J.P.W. & J.L. collected, reviewed and analysed the proxy records, and provided input in the analysis and interpretation of the European reconstruction; S.W. managed the data; J.P.W. & J.E.S. produced the reconstruction. North America: H.F.D., E.R.W., V.T., R.G., N.G. & A.E.V. designed the study, analysed the data, and produced the reconstructions; E.R.W. & A.E.V. collected and archived the data. South America: R.V. & M.G. coordinated the study; R.V., D.A.C, A.L., I.A.M., M.S.M., L.v.G., M.R.P. & A.R. provided proxy data; R.N. calculated the reconstruction; R.N. & I.A.M. managed the data. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

    Competing interests

    The author declare no competing financial interests.

    Corresponding author

    Correspondence to Darrell S. Kaufman.

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      Continental-scale temperature variability during the last two millennia

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