Five centuries of Central European temperature extremes reconstructed from tree-ring density and documentary evidence

Giovanna Battipaglia, David Frank, Ulf Büntgen, Petr Dobrovolnỳ, Rudolf Brázdil, Christian Pfister, Jan Esper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Future climate change will likely influence the frequency and intensity of weather extremes. As such events are by definition rare, long records are required to understand their characteristics, drivers, and consequences on ecology and society. Herein we provide a unique perspective on regional-scale temperature extremes over the past millennium, using three tree-ring maximum latewood density (MXD) chronologies from higher elevations in the European Alps. We verify the tree-ring-based extremes using documentary evidences from Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Central Europe that allowed the identification of 44 summer extremes over the 1550-2003 period. These events include cold temperatures in 1579, 1628, 1675, and 1816, as well as warm ones in 1811 and 2003. Prior to 1550, we provide new evidence for cold (e.g., 1068 and 1258) and warm (e.g., 1333) summers derived from the combined MXD records and thus help to characterize high-frequency temperature variability during medieval times. Spatial coherence of the reconstructed extremes is found over Switzerland, with most signatures even extending across Central Europe. We discuss potential limitations of the tree-ring and documentary archives, including the (i) ability of MXD to particularly capture extremely warm temperatures, (ii) methodological identification and relative definition of extremes, and (iii) placement of those events in the millennium-long context of low-frequency climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-191
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Central Europe
  • Documentary evidence
  • European Alps
  • Maximum latewood density
  • Palaeoclimatology
  • Temperature extremes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography


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