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Future changes in daily summer temperature variability: driving processes and role for temperature extremes

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Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are expected to lead to more frequent and intense summer temperature extremes, not only due to the mean warming itself, but also due to changes in temperature variability. To test this hypothesis, we analyse daily output of ten PRUDENCE regional climate model scenarios over Europe for the 2071–2100 period. The models project more frequent temperature extremes particularly over the Mediterranean and the transitional climate zone (TCZ, between the Mediterranean to the south and the Baltic Sea to the north). The projected warming of the uppermost percentiles of daily summer temperatures is found to be largest over France (in the region of maximum variability increase) rather than the Mediterranean (where the mean warming is largest). The underlying changes in temperature variability may arise from changes in (1) interannual temperature variability, (2) intraseasonal variability, and (3) the seasonal cycle. We present a methodology to decompose the total daily variability into these three components. Over France and depending upon the model, the total daily summer temperature variability is projected to significantly increase by 20–40% as a result of increases in all three components: interannual variability (30–95%), seasonal variability (35–105%), and intraseasonal variability (10–30%). Variability changes in northern and southern Europe are substantially smaller. Over France and parts of the TCZ, the models simulate a progressive warming within the summer season (corresponding to an increase in seasonal variability), with the projected temperature change in August exceeding that in June by 2–3 K. Thus, the most distinct warming is superimposed upon the maximum of the current seasonal cycle, leading to a higher intensity of extremes and an extension of the summer period (enabling extreme temperatures and heat waves even in September). The processes driving the variability changes are different for the three components but generally relate to enhanced land–atmosphere coupling and/or increased variability of surface net radiation, accompanied by a strong reduction of cloudiness, atmospheric circulation changes and a progressive depletion of soil moisture within the summer season. The relative contribution of these processes differs substantially between models.

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Correspondence to Erich M. Fischer.

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Fischer, E.M., Schär, C. Future changes in daily summer temperature variability: driving processes and role for temperature extremes. Clim Dyn 33, 917–935 (2009).

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