Articles | Volume 11, issue 8
Research article
25 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 25 Aug 2015

A regional climate palaeosimulation for Europe in the period 1500–1990 – Part 2: Shortcomings and strengths of models and reconstructions

J. J. Gómez-Navarro, O. Bothe, S. Wagner, E. Zorita, J. P. Werner, J. Luterbacher, C. C. Raible, and J. P Montávez

Abstract. This study compares gridded European seasonal series of surface air temperature (SAT) and precipitation (PRE) reconstructions with a regional climate simulation over the period 1500–1990. The area is analysed separately for nine subareas that represent the majority of the climate diversity in the European sector. In their spatial structure, an overall good agreement is found between the reconstructed and simulated climate features across Europe, supporting consistency in both products. Systematic biases between both data sets can be explained by a priori known deficiencies in the simulation. Simulations and reconstructions, however, largely differ in the temporal evolution of past climate for European subregions. In particular, the simulated anomalies during the Maunder and Dalton minima show stronger response to changes in the external forcings than recorded in the reconstructions. Although this disagreement is to some extent expected given the prominent role of internal variability in the evolution of regional temperature and precipitation, a certain degree of agreement is a priori expected in variables directly affected by external forcings. In this sense, the inability of the model to reproduce a warm period similar to that recorded for the winters during the first decades of the 18th century in the reconstructions is indicative of fundamental limitations in the simulation that preclude reproducing exceptionally anomalous conditions. Despite these limitations, the simulated climate is a physically consistent data set, which can be used as a benchmark to analyse the consistency and limitations of gridded reconstructions of different variables. A comparison of the leading modes of SAT and PRE variability indicates that reconstructions are too simplistic, especially for precipitation, which is associated with the linear statistical techniques used to generate the reconstructions. The analysis of the co-variability between sea level pressure (SLP) and SAT and PRE in the simulation yields a result which resembles the canonical co-variability recorded in the observations for the 20th century. However, the same analysis for reconstructions exhibits anomalously low correlations, which points towards a lack of dynamical consistency between independent reconstructions.