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Decreasing subseasonal temperature variability in the northern extratropics attributed to human influence


Changes in subseasonal temperature variability are linked with the altered probability of weather extremes and have important impacts on society and ecological systems. Earlier studies based on observations up to 2014 have shown a general decrease in subseasonal temperature variability over Northern Hemisphere extratropical land. However, these changes have been confined to specific regions and seasons, have limited statistical significance and human influence is yet to be determined. Here we show using up-to-date observations and climate model simulations that a human fingerprint, or pattern of change, in subseasonal variability has recently emerged over the Northern Hemisphere extratropics. The fingerprint features decreased near-surface air temperature variability over land in the high-northern latitudes in autumn, further extending into mid-latitudes in winter. Using large ensembles of single-forcing model experiments, we attribute the pattern of reduced temperature variability primarily to increased anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations, with anthropogenic aerosols playing a secondary role. Our results reveal that human influence is now detectable in hemispheric-wide day-to-day temperature variability and motivates research into the impacts of reduced temperature volatility on societal and ecological systems.

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Fig. 1: Subseasonal near-surface temperature variability trends.
Fig. 2: Signal time series of the subseasonal temperature variability fingerprint.
Fig. 3: Signal-to-noise ratios for increasing trend length.
Fig. 4: Drivers of subseasonal temperature variability trends.

Data availability

CanESM2 data are available at CESM1 data are available at ERA5 reanalysis data are available at!/dataset/reanalysis-era5-single-levels?tab=overview. NCEP-DOE Reanalysis 2 data are available at Berkeley Earth observations are available at

Code availability

Code is available form the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis and the National Center for Atmospheric Research for performing the large-ensemble simulations and making the data available. We also thank the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, the National Centers for Environmental Prediction and Berkeley Earth for making the reanalysis and observational datasets available. J.A.S. was funded by UK Natural Environment Research Council grant NE/V005855/1.

Author information




R.B. conceived of the study, carried out the analysis and wrote the manuscript. J.C.F. and J.A.S. discussed the results and made suggestions and edits to the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Russell Blackport.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks Reindert Haarsma, Dáithí Stone and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Tom Richardson.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Subseasonal near-surface temperature variability trends in reanalysis and observations.

Trends in subseasonal near-surface air temperature variability (°C/decade) in autumn (SON; a, c, e) and winter (DJF; b, d, f) over the 1979-2018 period. Trends are shown for ERA5 reanalysis (a, b) NCEP-DOE-reanalysis 2 (c, d), and Berkeley Earth observations (e, f). The stippling indicates trends that statistically significant at the 5% level using a two-sided student’s t-test.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Subseasonal near-surface temperature variability trends in spring and summer.

As in Fig. 1, but for spring (MAM) and summer (JJA).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Fingerprints of subseasonal temperature variability.

The fingerprints of subseasonal temperature variability from CanESM2 (a, b) and CESM1 (c, d) for autumn (SON; a, c) and winter (DJF; b, d).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Signal-to-noise ratios for increasing trend length.

As in Fig. 3, but with grid-points over ocean included in the fingerprint.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Subseasonal near-surface temperature variability trends.

As in Fig. 1, but with grid points over ocean included.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Seasonal-mean near-surface temperature trends.

As in Fig. 4, but for seasonal-mean temperature trends (°C/decade).

Extended Data Fig. 7 Meridional temperature gradient trends.

As in Fig. 4, but for meridional temperature gradient trends (°C 1000 km−1 decade−1).

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Blackport, R., Fyfe, J.C. & Screen, J.A. Decreasing subseasonal temperature variability in the northern extratropics attributed to human influence. Nat. Geosci. 14, 719–723 (2021).

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