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Journal Article

Statistical significance of seasonal warming / cooling trends


Ludescher,  J.
External Organizations;

Bunde,  A.
External Organizations;


Schellnhuber,  Hans Joachim
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Ludescher, J., Bunde, A., Schellnhuber, H. J. (2017): Statistical significance of seasonal warming / cooling trends. - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 114, 15, E2998-E3003.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_21590
The question whether a seasonal climate trend (e.g., the increase of summer temperatures in Antarctica in the last decades) is of anthropogenic or natural origin is of great importance for mitigation and adaption measures alike. The conventional significance analysis assumes that (i) the seasonal climate trends can be quantified by linear regression, (ii) the different seasonal records can be treated as independent records, and (iii) the persistence in each of these seasonal records can be characterized by short-term memory described by an autoregressive process of first order. Here we show that assumption ii is not valid, due to strong intraannual correlations by which different seasons are correlated. We also show that, even in the absence of correlations, for Gaussian white noise, the conventional analysis leads to a strong overestimation of the significance of the seasonal trends, because multiple testing has not been taken into account. In addition, when the data exhibit long-term memory (which is the case in most climate records), assumption iii leads to a further overestimation of the trend significance. Combining Monte Carlo simulations with the Holm–Bonferroni method, we demonstrate how to obtain reliable estimates of the significance of the seasonal climate trends in long-term correlated records. For an illustration, we apply our method to representative temperature records from West Antarctica, which is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth and belongs to the crucial tipping elements in the Earth system.