Climate Dynamics

, Volume 35, Issue 7, pp 1289-1307

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Detection and attribution of anthropogenic forcing to diurnal temperature range changes from 1950 to 1999: comparing multi-model simulations with observations

  • Liming ZhouAffiliated withSchool of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology Email author 
  • , Robert E. DickinsonAffiliated withDepartment of Geological Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin
  • , Aiguo DaiAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Paul DirmeyerAffiliated withCenter for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies


Observations show that the surface diurnal temperature range (DTR) has decreased since 1950s over most global land areas due to a smaller warming in maximum temperatures (T max) than in minimum temperatures (T min). This paper analyzes the trends and variability in T max, T min, and DTR over land in observations and 48 simulations from 12 global coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation models for the later half of the 20th century. It uses the modeled changes in surface downward solar and longwave radiation to interpret the modeled temperature changes. When anthropogenic and natural forcings are included, the models generally reproduce observed major features of the warming of T max and T min and the reduction of DTR. As expected the greenhouse gases enhanced surface downward longwave radiation (DLW) explains most of the warming of T max and T min while decreased surface downward shortwave radiation (DSW) due to increasing aerosols and water vapor contributes most to the decreases in DTR in the models. When only natural forcings are used, none of the observed trends are simulated. The simulated DTR decreases are much smaller than the observed (mainly due to the small simulated T min trend) but still outside the range of natural internal variability estimated from the models. The much larger observed decrease in DTR suggests the possibility of additional regional effects of anthropogenic forcing that the models can not realistically simulate, likely connected to changes in cloud cover, precipitation, and soil moisture. The small magnitude of the simulated DTR trends may be attributed to the lack of an increasing trend in cloud cover and deficiencies in charactering aerosols and important surface and boundary-layer processes in the models.


Minimum temperature Maximum temperature Diurnal temperature range