Articles | Volume 19, issue 7
Research article
13 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 13 Jul 2015

Attribution of European precipitation and temperature trends to changes in synoptic circulation

A. K. Fleig, L. M. Tallaksen, P. James, H. Hisdal, and K. Stahl

Abstract. Surface climate in Europe is changing and patterns in trends have been found to vary at sub-seasonal scales. This study aims to contribute to a better understanding of these changes across space and time by analysing to what degree observed climatic trends can be attributed to changes in synoptic atmospheric circulation. The relative importance of synoptic circulation changes (i.e. trends in synoptic type frequencies) as opposed to trends in the hydrothermal properties of synoptic types (within-type trends) on precipitation and temperature trends in Europe is assessed on a monthly basis. The study is based on mapping spatial and temporal trend patterns and their variability at a relatively high resolution (0.5° × 0.5°; monthly) across Europe. Gridded precipitation and temperature data (1963–2001) originate from the Watch Forcing Data set and synoptic types are defined by the objective SynopVis Grosswetterlagen (SVG). During the study period, relatively high influence of synoptic circulation changes are found from January to March, contributing to wetting trends in northern Europe and drying in the south. Simultaneously, particularly dry synoptic types get warmer first in south-western Europe in November and/or December and affect most of Europe in March and/or April. Strong influence of synoptic circulation changes is again found in June and August. In general, changes in synoptic circulation has a stronger effect on climate trends in north-western Europe than in the south-east. The exact locations of the strongest influence of synoptic circulation changes vary with the time of year and to some degree between precipitation and temperature. Throughout the year and across the whole of Europe, precipitation and temperature trends are caused by a combination of synoptic circulation changes and within-type changes with their relative influence varying between regions, months and climate variables.