- Precipitation trends since 1960 show an increase by up to 70 mm per decade in north-eastern and north-western Europe, in particular in winter, and a decrease by up to 90 mm per decade in some parts of southern Europe, in particular in summer.
- Projected changes in precipitation vary substantially across regions and seasons. Annual precipitation is generally projected to increase in northern Europe and to decrease in southern Europe. Projected decrease is the strongest in southern Europe in summer.
What is the trend in precipitation across Europe?
Trends in annual precipitation across Europe
Note: The trends are calculated using a median of pairwise slopes algorithm. Black dots represent high confidence in the sign of the long-term trend in the box (if the 5th to 95th percentile slopes are of the same sign). Boxes which have a thick outline contain at least three stations. Area averaged annual time series of percentage changes and trend lines are shown below each map for one area in northern Europe (blue line, 5.6 to 16.9 °E and 56.2 to 66.2 °N) and one in south‑western Europe (red line, 350.6 to 1.9 °E and 36.2 to 43.7 °N).
- E-OBS gridded dataset provided by Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)
Projected change in annual and summer precipitation
Note: Projected changes in annual (left) and summer (right) precipitation (%) in the period 2071-2100 compared to the baseline period 1971-2000 for the forcing scenario RCP 8.5. Model simulations are based on the multi-model ensemble average of RCM simulations from the EURO-CORDEX initiative.
- EURO-CORDEX data provided by EURO-CORDEX initiative
Annual precipitation averaged across Europe shows no significant changes since 1960 (according to the E-OBS dataset (Haylock, 2008), which is based on the European Climate Assessment dataset (Klock, 2009). However, significant changes have been observed at the sub-continental scale. The majority of Scandinavia and the Baltic States have observed an increase in annual precipitation of greater than 17 mm per decade, with an increase of up to 70 mm per decade in western Norway, with the increase strongest in winter. In contrast, annual precipitation has decreased by up to 90 mm per decade in the Iberian Peninsula, in particular in central Portugal. While there is some evidence linking land use, in particular forest cover, to local and regional precipitation patterns (Millan, 2008), it is not clear if the relatively minor land-use changes in the last 60 years have influenced observed precipitation trends.
Seasonal mean precipitation values and inter-annual variability is better reproduced by an ensemble of RCMs than by any single RCM. Recent work, building on the EURO-CORDEX initiative, has shown that RCMs have a reasonably strong consensus across Europe in projecting changes in seasonal average precipitation.
The ensemble mean projects a statistically significant increase in large parts of central Europe and northern Europe of up to about 30 % and a decrease (up to 40 %) in southern Europe between 2071-2100 and 1971-2000 (Fig. 2 left) (Jacob et al., 2013). During summer the zone in which precipitation decreases shifts northwards (Fig. 2 right). The pattern of the changes is very similar for RCP4.5, but for RCP4.5 the magnitude of the change is smaller.
Indicator specification and metadata
- Trends in annual precipitation across Europe
- Projected changes in annual and summer precipitation
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Methodology for indicator calculation
Trends are calculated using a median of pairwise slopes algorithm. Black dots represent high confidence in the sign of the long-term trend in the box (if the 5th to 95th percentile slopes are of the same sign). Boxes which have a thick outline contain at least three stations. Area averaged annual time series of percentage changes and trend lines are shown below each map for one area in northern Europe (Blue line, 5.6 to 16.9 °E and 56.2 to 66.2 °N) and one in south-western Europe (red line, 350.6 to 1.9 °E and 36.2 to 43.7 °N).
Projections are based on the EURO-CORDEX initiative (http://www.euro-cordex.net/). They have been obtained from different regional climate models (RCMs) performing at 11 km spatial resolution with boundary conditions from five global climate models (GCMs), using different RCPs.
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
Daily precipitation totals are standard meteorological measures that have been recorded systematically since the 1860s. However, despite longevity of the precipitation record in certain areas, the high spatial and temporal variability of precipitation means that the climate change signal cannot be detected with certainty in all European regions. Difficulties for detecting a significant trend can arise from the small sampling area of rain gauges, calibration errors in instrumentation, erroneous measurements during weather conditions such as snow or gales, and from limited sampling of the spatial variability of precipitation, such as in mountainous areas. Therefore, observed and projected precipitation changes should always be considered in the context of interannual variability and the measurement or modelling uncertainty.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/
provided by EURO-CORDEX initiative
E-OBS gridded dataset
provided by Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 002
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoBlaz Kurnik
EEA Management Plan2014 1.4.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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