Climate Dynamics

, Volume 27, Issue 7–8, pp 743–760 | Cite as

On the natural variability of the pre-industrial European climate

  • Lennart BengtssonEmail author
  • Kevin I. Hodges
  • Erich Roeckner
  • Renate Brokopf


We suggest that climate variability in Europe for the “pre-industrial” period 1500–1900 is fundamentally a consequence of internal fluctuations of the climate system. This is because a model simulation, using fixed pre-industrial forcing, in several important aspects is consistent with recent observational reconstructions at high temporal resolution. This includes extreme warm and cold seasonal events as well as different measures of the decadal to multi-decadal variance. Significant trends of 50-year duration can be seen in the model simulation. While the global temperature is highly correlated with ENSO (El Nino- Southern Oscillation), European seasonal temperature is only weakly correlated with the global temperature broadly consistent with data from ERA-40 reanalyses. Seasonal temperature anomalies of the European land area are largely controlled by the position of the North Atlantic storm tracks. We believe the result is highly relevant for the interpretation of past observational records suggesting that the effect of external forcing appears to be of secondary importance. That variations in the solar irradiation could have been a credible cause of climate variations during the last centuries, as suggested in some previous studies, is presumably due to the fact that the models used in these studies may have underestimated the internal variability of the climate. The general interpretation from this study is that the past climate is just one of many possible realizations and thus in many respects not reproducible in its time evolution with a general circulation model but only reproducible in a statistical sense.


North Atlantic Oscillation Storm Track European Climate Total Solar Irradiation Pacific North American 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Dr. Jürg Luterbacher and Dr. Elena Xoplaki for providing the observed gridded European temperature data used in this study and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies for making the GISSTEMP data available online. We also thank Dr. Luterbacher for providing helpful comments to the manuscript. This research was financed in part by the German Ministery for Education and Research (BMBF) under the DEKLIM project. The simulations were performed on the NEC SX-6 supercomputer installed at the German Climate Computing Centre (DKRZ) in Hamburg.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lennart Bengtsson
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Kevin I. Hodges
    • 1
  • Erich Roeckner
    • 2
  • Renate Brokopf
    • 2
  1. 1.Environmental Systems Science CentreReadingUK
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for MeteorologyHamburgGermany

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