Theoretical and Applied Climatology

, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 135–159

An analysis of regional climate change in Switzerland


  • M. Beniston
    • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)
  • M. Rebetez
    • University of Fribourg
  • F. Giorgi
    • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • M. R. Marinucci
    • National Center for Atmospheric Research

DOI: 10.1007/BF00865530

Cite this article as:
Beniston, M., Rebetez, M., Giorgi, F. et al. Theor Appl Climatol (1994) 49: 135. doi:10.1007/BF00865530


An analysis of daily climatological data covering the period from 1901 to 1992 for four locations in Switzerland (Zurich, Lugano, Davos, and Säntis) has been made. The study has highlighted the fact that climate change this century is characterized by increases in minimum temperatures of about 2 K, a more modest increase in maximum temperatures (in some instances a decrease of maxima in the latter part of the record), little trend in the precipitation data, and a general decrease of sunshine duration through to the mid 1980s. The interannual variability is generally large, and filtering of the data to remove high-frequency noise shows that the regional climate undergoes a series of fluctuations of between 8 and 20 years' duration. The temperature change over this century is of greater magnitude than the global temperature changes published in the literature, reflecting an amplification of the global signal in the Alpine region; warming has been most intense in the 1940s, followed by the 1980s; the cooling which intervened from the 1950s to the late 1970s was not sufficient to offset the warming in the middle of the century.

Pressure statistics have been compiled as a means of providing a link between the regional-scale climatological variables and the synoptic, supra-regional scale. These statistics show that pressure also exhibits a number of decadal-scale fluctuations, with the appearance of a new and anomalous behavior in the 1980s; in this decade, pressure reaches annual average values far higher than at other times this century. The pressure field is well correlated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) Index for distinct periods of the record (1931–1950 and 1971–1990) and is almost decorrelated from the NAO Index for the other decades of the century; this is indicative of transition from one climatic régime to another, dominated by zonal flow when the correlation with the NAO Index is high. In the 1980s, when zonal flow over the North Atlantic is strong, episodes of persistent, anomalously high pressures (blocking highs) are seen to occur over Switzerland, particularly during the winter season. The difference between the zonal and non-zonal régimes is particularly marked between the decade of the 1950s and that of the 1980s.

The impact of this change between the 1950s and the 1980s on a number of climatological variables has been investigated statistically in order to provide an illustration of the manner in which changes in synoptic régimes (i.e., ‘climate change’) impacts upon climate characteristics on a regional scale. The analysis shows that temperature, precipitation, snow depth, and sunshine duration are indeed sensitive to large-scale influences; not only can yearly mean changes be quantified, but also seasonal and monthly fluctuations.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1994