Burger
Journalpaper

European climate of the past 500 years: new challenges for historical climatology

Abstract

Temperature reconstructions from Europe for the past 500 years based on documentary and instrumental data are analysed. First, the basic documentary data sources, including information about climate and weather-related extremes, are described. Then, the standard palaeoclimatological reconstruction method adopted here is discussed with a particular application to temperature reconstructions from documentary-based proxy data. The focus is on two new reconstructions; January–April mean temperatures for Stockholm (1502–2008), based on a combination of data for the sailing season in the Stockholm harbour and instrumental temperature measurements, and monthly Central European temperature (CEuT) series (1500–2007) based on documentary-derived temperature indices of the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland combined with instrumental records from the same countries. The two series, both of which are individually discussed in greater detail in subsequent papers in this special edition, are here compared and analysed using running correlations and wavelet analysis. While the Stockholm series shows a pronounced low-frequency component, the CEuT series indicates much weaker low-frequency variations. Both series are analysed with respect to three different long-period reconstructions of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and are compared with other European temperature reconstructions based on tree-rings, wine-harvest data and various climate multiproxies. Correlation coefficients between individual proxy-based series show weaker correlations compared to the instrumental data. There are also indications of temporally varying temperature cross-correlations between different areas of Europe. The two temperature reconstructions have also been compared to geographically corresponding temperature output from simulations with global and regional climate models for the past few centuries. The findings are twofold: on the one hand, the analysis reinforces the hypothesis that the index-data based CEuT reconstruction may not appropriately reflect the centennial scale variations. On the other hand, it is possible that climate models may underestimate regional decadal variability. By way of a conclusion, the results are discussed from a broader point of view and attention is drawn to some new challenges for future investigations in the historical climatology in Europe.
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