, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 455-477
Date: 08 Nov 2012

Summer temperatures in Europe and land heat fluxes in observation-based data and regional climate model simulations

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Abstract

The occurrence and intensity of heatwaves is expected to increase with climate change. Early warnings of hot summers have therefore a great socio-economical value. Previous studies have shown that hot summers are preceded by a Southern European rainfall deficit during winter, and higher spring temperatures. Changes in the surface energy budget are believed to drive this evolution, in particular changes in the latent and sensible heat fluxes. However these have rarely been investigated due to the lack of long-term reliable observation data. In this study, we analyzed several data-derived gridded products of latent and sensible heat fluxes, based on flux tower observations, together with re-analyses and regional climate model simulations over Europe. We find that warm summers are preceded by an increase in latent heat flux in early spring. During warm summers, an increase in available energy results in an excess of both latent and sensible heat fluxes over most of Europe, but a latent heat flux decrease over the Iberian Peninsula. This indicates that, on average, a summertime soil-moisture limited evapotranspiration regime only prevails in the Iberian Peninsula. In general, the models that we analyzed overestimate latent heat and underestimate sensible heat as compared to the flux tower derived data-product. Most models show considerable drying during warm seasons, leading to the establishment of a soil-moisture limited regime across Europe in summer. This over-estimation by the current generation of models of latent heat and hence of soil moisture deficit over Europe in summer has potential consequences for future summertime climate projections and the projected frequency of heat waves. We also show that a northward propagation of drought during warm summers is found in model results, a phenomenon which is also seen in the flux tower data-product. Our results lead to a better understanding of the role of latent and sensible heat flux in summer heatwaves, and provide a framework for benchmark of modeling studies.