Climate Dynamics

, Volume 40, Issue 1–2, pp 1–20 | Cite as

SST and circulation trend biases cause an underestimation of European precipitation trends

  • Ronald van HarenEmail author
  • Geert Jan van Oldenborgh
  • Geert Lenderink
  • Matthew Collins
  • Wilco Hazeleger


Clear precipitation trends have been observed in Europe over the past century. In winter, precipitation has increased in north-western Europe. In summer, there has been an increase along many coasts in the same area. Over the second half of the past century precipitation also decreased in southern Europe in winter. An investigation of precipitation trends in two multi-model ensembles including both global and regional climate models shows that these models fail to reproduce the observed trends. In many regions the model spread does not cover the trend in the observations. In contrast, regional climate model (RCM) experiments with observed boundary conditions reproduce the observed precipitation trends much better. The observed trends are largely compatible with the range of uncertainties spanned by the ensemble, indicating that the boundary conditions of RCMs are responsible for large parts of the trend biases. We find that the main factor in setting the trend in winter is atmospheric circulation, for summer sea surface temperature (SST) is important in setting precipitation trends along the North Sea and Atlantic coasts. The causes of the large trends in atmospheric circulation and summer SST are not known. For SST there may be a connection with the well-known ocean circulation biases in low-resolution ocean models. A quantitative understanding of the causes of these trends is needed so that climate model based projections of future climate can be corrected for these precipitation trend biases.


Europe Precipitation Trends Climate models Observations Uncertainty 



The research was supported by the Dutch research program Knowledge for Climate. MC was partially supported by the NERC Changing Water Cycle PAGODA Project.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald van Haren
    • 1
    Email author
  • Geert Jan van Oldenborgh
    • 1
  • Geert Lenderink
    • 1
  • Matthew Collins
    • 2
  • Wilco Hazeleger
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)De BiltThe Netherlands
  2. 2.University of ExeterExeterUK
  3. 3.Meteorology and Air Quality SectionWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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