Article

Climatic Change

, Volume 125, Issue 3, pp 349-363

The year-long unprecedented European heat and drought of 1540 – a worst case

  • Oliver WetterAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of Bern Email author 
  • , Christian PfisterAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern Email author 
  • , Johannes P. WernerAffiliated withDepartment of Geography; Climatology, Climate Dynamics and Climate Change, Justus Liebig University of Giessen Email author 
  • , Eduardo ZoritaAffiliated withInstitute of Coastal Research, Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht
  • , Sebastian WagnerAffiliated withInstitute of Coastal Research, Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht
  • , Sonia I. SeneviratneAffiliated withInstitute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, CHN N11
  • , Jürgen HergetAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelms University
  • , Uwe GrünewaldAffiliated withChair Hydrology and Water Resources Management, Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Process Engineering, Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus – Senftenberg
  • , Jürg LuterbacherAffiliated withDepartment of Geography; Climatology, Climate Dynamics and Climate Change, Justus Liebig University of Giessen
    • , Maria-Joao AlcoforadoAffiliated withCentre of Geographical Studies, Institute of Geography and Planning, University of Lisbon, Edifício da Fac. de Letras
    • , Mariano BarriendosAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernCatalan Institute for Climate Sciences (IC3)Department of Modern History, University of Barcelona
    • , Ursula BieberAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernDepartment of Slavonic Studies and Interdisciplinary Centre of Medieval Studies, University of Salzburg
    • , Rudolf BrázdilAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernInstitute of Geography, Masaryk UniversityGlobal Change Research Centre AS CR
    • , Karl H. BurmeisterAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernHoyerberg, Am Staeuben 18, Hoyerberg
    • , Chantal CamenischAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of Bern
    • , Antonio ContinoAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernDepartment of Earth and Sea Sciences (DiSTeM), University of Palermo
    • , Petr DobrovolnýAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernInstitute of Geography, Masaryk UniversityGlobal Change Research Centre AS CR
    • , Rüdiger GlaserAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernDepartment of Environmental Social Studies and Geography - Physical Geography, Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg i.Br.
    • , Iso HimmelsbachAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernDepartment of Environmental Social Studies and Geography - Physical Geography, Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg i.Br.
    • , Andrea KissAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernInstitute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management, Vienna University of Technology
    • , Oldřich KotyzaAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernRegional Museum
    • , Thomas LabbéAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernInstitute of History, Technische Universität (TU) of Darmstadt
    • , Danuta LimanówkaAffiliated withInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of BernInstitute of Meteorology and Water Management National Research Institute (IMGW-PIB), Center for Poland’s Climate Monitoring
    • , Laurent LitzenburgerAffiliated withInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of BernLorraine University Center for Historical Research (CRULH), University of Lorraine, Campus Lettres et Sciences Humaines
    • , Øyvind NordlAffiliated withInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of BernNorwegian Meteorological Institute, Research and Development Department, Division for Model and Climate Analysis
    • , Kathleen PribylAffiliated withInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of BernClimatic Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park
    • , Dag RetsöAffiliated withInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of BernDepartment of Economic History, Stockholm University
    • , Dirk RiemannAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernDepartment of Environmental Social Studies and Geography - Physical Geography, Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg i.Br.
    • , Christian RohrAffiliated withOeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of BernInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of Bern
    • , Werner SiegfriedAffiliated withInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of BernAgroscope Research Station ACW, Extension Wine
    • , Johan SöderbergAffiliated withInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of BernDepartment of Economic History, Stockholm University
    • , Jean-Laurent SpringAffiliated withInstitute of History, Section of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU), University of BernStation de recherche Agroscope à Pully

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Abstract

The heat waves of 2003 in Western Europe and 2010 in Russia, commonly labelled as rare climatic anomalies outside of previous experience, are often taken as harbingers of more frequent extremes in the global warming-influenced future. However, a recent reconstruction of spring–summer temperatures for WE resulted in the likelihood of significantly higher temperatures in 1540. In order to check the plausibility of this result we investigated the severity of the 1540 drought by putting forward the argument of the known soil desiccation-temperature feedback. Based on more than 300 first-hand documentary weather report sources originating from an area of 2 to 3 million km2, we show that Europe was affected by an unprecedented 11-month-long Megadrought. The estimated number of precipitation days and precipitation amount for Central and Western Europe in 1540 is significantly lower than the 100-year minima of the instrumental measurement period for spring, summer and autumn. This result is supported by independent documentary evidence about extremely low river flows and Europe-wide wild-, forest- and settlement fires. We found that an event of this severity cannot be simulated by state-of-the-art climate models.