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Summer Temperatures in Europe are the Warmest of the Last Two Millennia

First Posted: Jan 29, 2016 05:16 PM EST

Recent summer temperatures in Europe may tip the thermometers in terms of warming. Scientists have found that these temperatures were likely the warmest of the last two millennia.

Warm summers were experienced during Roman times, up to the 3rd century, followed by generally cooler conditions from the 4th to 7th centuries. A generally warm medieval period was followed by a mostly cold Little Ice Age from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The pronounced warming early in the 20th century and in recent decades is well captured by the tree-ring data and historical evidence on which the new reconstruction is based.

The new evidence reveals that past natural changes in summer temperature are larger than previously thought. This suggests that climate models may underestimate the full range of future extreme events, including heat waves. This past variability has been associated with large volcanic eruptions and changes in the amount of energy received from the sun.

In this case, the researchers found that temperatures over the past 30 years lie outside the range of these natural variations. This supports the idea that recent warming is caused by human activity.

"We now have a detailed picture of how summer temperatures have changed over Europe for more than two thousand years and we can use that to test the climate models that are used to predict the impacts of future global warming," said Jurg Luterbacher, the coordinator of the study, in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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