Temperature and precipitation extremes in century-long gridded observations, reanalyses, and atmospheric model simulations

Markus G. Donat, Lisa V. Alexander, Nicholas Herold, Andrea J. Dittus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Knowledge about long-term changes in climate extremes is vital to better understand multidecadal climate variability and long-term changes and to place today's extreme events in a historical context. While global changes in temperature and precipitation extremes since the midtwentieth century are well studied, knowledge about century-scale changes is limited. This paper analyses a range of largely independent observations-based data sets covering 1901–2010 for long-term changes and interannual variability in daily scale temperature and precipitation extremes. We compare across data sets for consistency to ascertain our confidence in century-scale changes in extremes. We find consistent warming trends in temperature extremes globally and in most land areas over the past century. For precipitation extremes we find global tendencies toward more intense rainfall throughout much of the twentieth century; however, local changes are spatially more variable. While global time series of the different data sets agree well after about 1950, they often show different changes during the first half of the twentieth century. In regions with good observational coverage, gridded observations and reanalyses agree well throughout the entire past century. Simulations with an atmospheric model suggest that ocean temperatures and sea ice may explain up to about 50% of interannual variability in the global average of temperature extremes, and about 15% in the global average of moderate precipitation extremes, but local correlations are mostly significant only in low latitudes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11174-11189
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2016


  • AMIP
  • climate change
  • climate extremes
  • climate variability
  • ERA-20C
  • ERA-Clim
  • HadEX2
  • Twentieth Century Reanalysis

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