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Intensity, frequency and spatial configuration of winter temperature inversions in the closed La Brevine valley, Switzerland


Some of the world’s valleys are famous for having particularly cold microclimates. The La Brevine valley, in the Swiss Jura Mountains, holds the record for the lowest temperature ever measured in an inhabited location in Switzerland. We studied cold air pools (CAPs) in this valley during the winter of 2014–2015 using 44 temperature data loggers distributed between 1033 and 1293 m asl. Our goals were to (i) describe the climatic conditions under which CAPs form in the valley, (ii) examine the spatial configuration and the temperature structure of the CAPs and (iii) quantify how often temperature inversions occur in winter using long-term series of temperature from the valley floor. Our results show that CAPs occurred every second night, on average, during the winter of 2014–2015 and were typically formed under cloudless, windless and high-pressure conditions. Strong temperature inversions up to 28 °C were detected between the valley floor and the surrounding hills. The spatial temperature structure of the CAPs varies among the different inversion days, with the upper boundary of the cold pool generally situated at about 1150 m asl. Although mean temperatures have increased in this area over the period 1960–2015 in connection with climate change, the occurrences of extreme cold temperatures did not decrease in winter and are highly correlated with the North Atlantic Oscillation and the East Atlantic indices. This suggests that CAPs in sheltered valleys are largely decoupled from the free atmosphere temperature and will likely continue to occur in the next decades under warmer conditions.

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Long-term temperature data for La Brevine and La Chaux-de-Fonds were provided by MeteoSwiss, the Swiss Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology. The measuring material and its installation were funded by the University of Neuchatel. The research leading to these results was funded by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). We thank Barbara Huber and Ludwig Z’graggen for interesting discussions and for sharing their experience concerning CAPs and meteorological conditions in Switzerland. We also thank Christophe Randin for assistance in data analysis and Maureen Gurtner and Zoe Codeluppi for field assistance. We are grateful to the municipality of La Brevine and the landowners, farmers and valley inhabitants for allowing the installation of the data loggers and for field assistance.

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Correspondence to Yann Vitasse.

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Y. Vitasse and G. Klein contributed equally to the manuscript and are therefore considered to be co-first authors.

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Vitasse, Y., Klein, G., Kirchner, J.W. et al. Intensity, frequency and spatial configuration of winter temperature inversions in the closed La Brevine valley, Switzerland. Theor Appl Climatol 130, 1073–1083 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-016-1944-1

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  • North Atlantic Oscillation
  • North Atlantic Oscillation Index
  • Temperature Inversion
  • Valley Floor
  • Strong Inversion