North Sea Region Climate Change Assessment

Part of the series Regional Climate Studies pp 55-84

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.


Recent Change—Atmosphere

  • Martin StendelAffiliated withDepartment for Arctic and Climate, Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) Email author 
  • , Else van den BesselaarAffiliated withRoyal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)
  • , Abdel HannachiAffiliated withDepartment of Meteorology, Stockholm University
  • , Elizabeth C. KentAffiliated withNational Oceanography Centre
  • , Christiana LefebvreAffiliated withGerman Meteorological Service (DWD)
  • , Frederik SchenkAffiliated withBolin Centre for Climate Research, University of Stockholm
  • , Gerard van der SchrierAffiliated withRoyal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)
  • , Tim WoollingsAffiliated withAtmospheric Physics, Clarendon Laboratory, University of Oxford


This chapter examines past and present studies of variability and changes in atmospheric variables within the North Sea region over the instrumental period; roughly the past 200 years. The variables addressed are large-scale circulation, pressure and wind, surface air temperature, precipitation and radiative properties (clouds, solar radiation, and sunshine duration). Temperature has increased everywhere in the North Sea region, especially in spring and in the north. Precipitation has increased in the north and decreased in the south. There has been a north-eastward shift in storm tracks, which agrees with climate model projections. Due to large internal variability, it is not clear which aspects of the observed changes are due to anthropogenic activities and which are internally forced, and long-term trends are difficult to deduce. The number of deep cyclones seems to have increased (but not the total number of cyclones). The persistence of circulation types seems to have increased over the past century, with ‘more extreme’ extreme events. Changes in extreme weather events, however, are difficult to assess due to changes in instrumentation, station relocations, and problems with digitisation. Without thorough quality control digitised datasets may be useless or even counterproductive. Reanalyses are useful as long as biases introduced by inhomogeneities are properly addressed. It is unclear to what extent circulation over the North Sea region is controlled by distant factors, especially changes in Arctic sea ice.