Global surface air temperature variations during the twentieth century: Part 2, implications for large-scale high-frequency palaeoclimatic studies

KR Briffa, PD Jones

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74 Citations (Scopus)


This paper is the second of a two-part series analysing details of regional, hemispheric and global temperature change during the twentieth century. Based on the grid box data described in Part 1 we present global maps of the strength of regional temperature coherence measured in terms of the correlation decay length for both annual and seasonal mean data. Correlation decay lengths are generally higher for annual rather than seasonal data; higher in the Southern compared to the Northern Hemisphere; and consistently higher over the oceans, particularly the Indian and central north Pacific oceans. Spatial coherence is relatively low in all seasons over the mid to high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and especially low in summer over the northern North Atlantic region. We also describe selected regional temperature series and examine the similarities between these and hemispheric mean data, placing emphasis on the nature of the relationships in different seasons. The Equatorial Indian and Atlantic oceans appear to be the best regional proxies for representing global mean temperatures. Temperature change in regions bordering the northern North Atlantic are less representative of hemisphere mean data, particularly in summer. The implications of these results for the large-scale interpretation of high-frequency palaeoclimate proxies are discussed. Strictly, given the length of the instrumental data, our results apply to temperature variability on timescales up to, at most, 50 years. Traditional inferences on global mean temperature change based on regional proxies originating around the margins of the northern North Atlantic must be viewed with some caution. Information on temperature change over the oceans, especially the tropical oceans, is an important prerequisite for accurate portrayal of global mean change. Care must be taken when integrating the evidence of different climate proxies to respect the seasonality of the response. Warm-season temperatures are most atypical of the various seasonal averages, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Inferring annual temperature change on the basis of summer-responsive data is highly questionable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-88
Number of pages12
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1993

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