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Century-scale temperature variability and onset of industrial-era warming in the Eastern Tibetan Plateau

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To improve our understanding of climate variability in the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and its sensitivity to external forcings, recent temperature changes need to be placed in a long-term historical context. Here, we present two tree-ring based temperature reconstructions: a 1003-year (1000–2002 CE) annual temperature reconstruction for the northeastern TP (NETP) based on seven series and a 522-year (1489–2010 CE) summer (June–July–August) temperature reconstruction for the southeastern TP (SETP) based on 11 series. Our reconstructions show six centuries of generally warm NETP temperatures (1000–1586 CE), followed by a transition to cooler temperatures (1587–1887 CE for NETP and 1588–1930 CE for SETP). The transition from the Medieval Climate Anomaly to the Little Ice Age thus happened in the 1580s in NETP and SETP, which is about 150 years later than in larger-scale (e.g. Asia and the Northern Hemisphere) temperature reconstructions. We found that TP temperature variability, especially in SETP, was influenced by the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation and that the twentieth century was the warmest on record in NETP and SETP. Our reconstructions and climate model simulations both show industrial-era warming trends, the onset of which happened earlier in NETP (1812 CE) compared to SETP (1887 CE) and other temperature reconstructions for Western China, East Asia, Asia, and the Northern Hemisphere. The early NETP onset of industrial-era warming can likely be explained by NETP’s faster warming rate and by local feedback factors (i.e., ice–snow cover-albedo). Comparisons between climate model simulations and our reconstructions reveal that cooler TP temperatures from 1600 to 1800 CE might be related to land-use and land-cover change.

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This research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41871030, 41501049, and 41721091), by the Self-determination Project of the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences (no. SKLCS-ZZ-2019), by the Light of West China Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), by the Youth Innovation Promotion Association, CAS (2016372), by funding from the Chinese Scholarship Council (201704910171), and by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Projects no. GK201801007). Qiong Zhang acknowledges the Swedish Research Council Vetenskapsrådet funded Project 2013-06476. We thank Dr. Bao Yang, Dr. Eryuan Liang, Dr. Haifeng Zhu, Dr. Jianping Duan, Dr. Jinbao Li, Dr. Jianglin Wang, Dr. Lily Wang, Dr. Ninglian Wang, Dr. Qibing Zhang, Dr. Teng Li, Dr. Xiaohua Gou, Dr. Xuemei Shao, Dr. Yong Zhang, Dr. Xiaochun Wang, and Dr. Yu Liu kindly provide their reconstructions data. We also appreciate the contributors to the ITRB, PAGES program, CMIP historical, and PMIP last millennium program. The reconstructions data in this study are available on the NOAA paleoclimate database ( We appreciate three anonymous reviewers and editors for their helpful comments to improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Guobao Xu.

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Xu, G., Liu, X., Zhang, Q. et al. Century-scale temperature variability and onset of industrial-era warming in the Eastern Tibetan Plateau. Clim Dyn 53, 4569–4590 (2019).

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