Articles | Volume 7, issue 4
Review article
29 Nov 2011
Review article |  | 29 Nov 2011

Spring-summer temperatures reconstructed for northern Switzerland and southwestern Germany from winter rye harvest dates, 1454–1970

O. Wetter and C. Pfister

Abstract. This paper presents a unique 517-yr long documentary data-based reconstruction of spring-summer (MAMJJ) temperatures for northern Switzerland and south-western Germany from 1454 to 1970. It is composed of 25 partial series of winter grain (secale cereale) harvest starting dates (WGHD) that are partly based on harvest related bookkeeping of institutions (hospitals, municipalities), partly on (early) phenological observations. The resulting main Basel WGHD series was homogenised with regard to dating style, data type and altitude. The calibration and verification approach was applied using the homogenous HISTALP temperature series from 1774–1824 for calibration (r = 0.78) and from 1920–1970 for verification (r = 0.75). The latter result even suffers from the weak data base available for 1870–1950. Temperature reconstructions based on WGHD are more influenced by spring temperatures than those based on grape harvest dates (GHD), because rye in contrast to vines already begins to grow as soon as sunlight brings the plant to above freezing. The earliest and latest harvest dates were checked for consistency with narrative documentary weather reports. Comparisons with other European documentary-based GHD and WGHD temperature reconstructions generally reveal significant correlations decreasing with the distance from Switzerland. The new Basel WGHD series shows better skills in representing highly climate change sensitive variations of Swiss Alpine glaciers than available GHD series.