"We have for the first time gained a picture of just how the climate distributions have been changing shape over the last 60 years or so," David Stainforth of the London School of Economics, University of Warwick and University of Oxford told environmentalresearchweb. "And we find that how they change shape depends on where you look and what aspects of climate you are interested in."

Stainforth and colleagues from the London School of Economics, University of Warwick, University of Cambridge, and University of Tromsø found that in eastern Spain and central Italy, the distributions of summer daytime temperatures have, in the most part, simply shifted towards higher temperatures. "But for northern France and Southern England, the coolest summer days haven’t changed much at all, while the hottest summer days have changed a lot," he said. "In central France it is somewhere in-between; the lowest quantiles haven’t changed much, the highest have changed more, but the ones that have changed most are around the 0.75 level (i.e. the hotter than average but not the vey hottest summer days)."

What’s more, where the response is greatest – in a band from northern France to Denmark – the hottest days in the temperature distribution have seen changes of at least 2 ° C, more than four times the global mean change over the same period. In winter, meanwhile, the coldest nights are warming the fastest, particularly in Scandinavia.

"I do a lot of work on the interpretation of climate models, which raises fascinating scientific issues, but as yet they can’t provide reliable information on the local scales necessary for many practical decisions," said Stainforth. "This study can potentially provide information about climate change at the local scales that many planners desire."

The findings, which provide model-independent data, could be useful for building designers, for example, or climate adaptation policy-makers.

The researchers used a methodological approach that they published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society earlier this year. "That work begins to tease out how we approach our understanding of the relationships between local, regional and global scale climate change," said Stainforth. "This is the first application of the method."

To create the map, the team used the E-OBS dataset that was compiled within the ENSEMBLES project and provides daily maximum temperatures on a grid across Europe from 1950 onwards. "That dataset is a tremendous resource, and without it we wouldn’t have been able to do this work," said Stainforth.

In this study the team looked at four specific variables – daytime and night-time temperatures in summer and winter. Now, the plan is to take the research further by looking at different variables and datasets. "There are also conceptual issues to explore, particularly in terms of the appropriate statistical representation of the changing shapes of the climatic distributions," said Stainforth.

The team reported their results in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

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