Asymmetric trends in seasonal temperature variability in instrumental records from ten stations in Switzerland, Germany and the UK from 1864 to 2012

Michael Matiu, Donna P. Ankerst, Annette Menzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


While the rise in global mean temperature over the past several decades is now widely acknowledged, the issue as to whether and to what extent temperature variability is changing continues to undergo debate. Here, variability refers to the spread of the temperature distribution. Much attention has been given to the effects that changes in mean temperature have on extremes, but these changes are accompanied by changes in variability, and it is actually the two together, in addition to all aspects of a changing climate pattern, that influence extremes. Since extremes have some of the largest impacts on society and ecology, changing temperature variability must be considered in tandem with a gradually increasing temperature mean. Previous studies of trends in temperature variability have produced conflicting results. Here we investigated ten long-term instrumental records in Europe of minimum, mean and maximum temperatures, looking for trends in seasonal, annual and decadal measures of variability (standard deviation and various quantile ranges) as well as asymmetries in the trends of extreme versus mean temperatures via quantile regression. We found consistent and accelerating mean warming during 1864-2012. In the last 40 years (1973-2012) trends for Tmax were higher than for Tmin, reaching up to 0.8 °C per 10a in spring. On the other hand, variability trends were not as uniform: significant changes occurred in opposing directions depending on the season, as well as when comparing 1864-2012 trends to those of 1973-2012. Moreover, if variability changed, then it changed asymmetrically, that is only in the part above or below the median. Consequently, trends in the extreme high and low quantiles differed. Regional differences indicated that in winter, high-alpine stations had increasing variability trends for Tmax especially at the upper tail compared to no changes or decreasing variability at low altitude stations. In contrast, summer variability increased at all stations studied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-27
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Alpine region
  • Climate change
  • Europe
  • Long-record observations
  • Quantile regression
  • Robust measures
  • Temperature extremes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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