Cold-season temperatures in the European Alps during the past millennium: variability, seasonality and recent trends

de Jong, Rixt; Kamenik, Christian; Grosjean, Martin (2013). Cold-season temperatures in the European Alps during the past millennium: variability, seasonality and recent trends. Quaternary Science Reviews, 82, pp. 1-12. Pergamon 10.1016/j.quascirev.2013.10.007

[img] Text
1-s2.0-S0277379113003958-main.pdf - Published Version
Restricted to registered users only
Available under License Publisher holds Copyright.

Download (969kB) | Request a copy

This study presents a proxy-based, quantitative reconstruction of cold-season (mean October to May, TOct–May) air temperatures covering nearly the entire last millennium (AD 1060–2003, some hiatuses).

The reconstruction was based on subfossil chrysophyte stomatocyst remains in the varved sediments of high-Alpine Lake Silvaplana, eastern Swiss Alps (46°27’N, 9°48′W, 1791 m a.s.l.). Previous studies have demonstrated the reliability of this proxy by comparison to meteorological data. Cold-season air temperatures could therefore be reconstructed quantitatively, at a high resolution (5-yr) and with high chronological accuracy. Spatial correlation analysis suggests that the reconstruction reflects cold season climate variability over the high- Alpine region and substantial parts of central and western Europe.

Cold-season temperatures were characterized by a relatively stable first part of the millennium until AD 1440 (2σ of 5-yr mean values = 0.7 °C) and highly variable TOct–May after that (AD 1440–1900, 2σ of 5-yr mean values = 1.3 °C). Recent decades (AD, 1991-present) were unusually warm in the context of the last millennium (exceeding the 2σ-range of the mean decadal TOct–May) but this warmth was not unprecedented. The coolest decades occurred from AD 1510–1520 and AD 1880–1890. The timing of extremely warm and cold decades is generally in good agreement with documentary data representing Switzerland and central European lowlands.

The transition from relatively stable to highly variable TOct–May coincided with large changes in atmospheric circulation patterns in the North Atlantic region. Comparison of reconstructed cold season temperatures to the North Atlantic Oscillation index (NAO) during the past 1000 years showed that the relatively stable and warm conditions at the study site until AD 1440 coincided with a persistent positive mode of the NAO. We propose that the transition to large TOct–May variability around AD 1440 was linked to the subsequent absence of this persistent zonal flow pattern, which would allow other climatic drivers to gain importance in the study area. From AD 1440–1900, the similarity of reconstructed TOct–May to reconstructed air pressure in the Siberian High suggests a relatively strong influence of continental anticyclonic systems on Alpine cold season climate parameters during periods when westerly airflow was subdued. A more continental type of atmospheric circulation thus seems to be characteristic for the Little Ice Age in Europe.

Comparison of Toct–May to summer temperature reconstructions from the same study site shows that, as expected, summer and cold season temperature trends and variability differed completely throughout nearly the entire last 1000 years. Since AD 1980, however, summer and cold season temperatures show a simultaneous, strong increase, which is unprecedented in the context of the last millennium. We suggest that the most likely explanation for this recent trend is anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) forcing.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Paleolimnology
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

UniBE Contributor:

de Jong, Rixt, Kamenik, Christian, Grosjean, Martin


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 910 Geography & travel








Monika Wälti-Stampfli

Date Deposited:

17 Jan 2014 09:19

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:27

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Varves, NAO, Climatic change, Lake sediments, Little ice age, Late Holocene, Anthropocene




Actions (login required)

Edit item Edit item
Provide Feedback