Patterns of climate change across Scotland
March 2006


Project funders/partners: Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER), Scottish Executive, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Forestry Commission.

Background to research

The Scottish mainland and Scottish Isles warmed by 0.69°C and 0.64°C respectively, over the period 1861-2000 (Jones and Lister, 2004). Precipitation patterns have also altered, generally producing drier summer and wetter winters but there has also been an increased frequency of heavy rain events (Mayes, 1996; Smith, 1995). Generalised annual values at a national level can mask significant regional and seasonal variations. In order to plan for adaptation to climate change there is a need to know the degree of change in specific locations across the seasons.  Only then can potential future trends for that locality be considered in the context of the latest UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) climate change scenarios.

Objectives of research

The aim of this study is to collate records of observed data in order to provide an up to date assessment of how the climate of Scotland has changed, not just giving a nationally averaged result but identifying regional patterns of change. This study provides a benchmark against which future change can be measured. The analysis of trends shows how far Scotland’s climate has altered. It also places the predicted future climate of Scotland within the context of changes already observed. It thereby provides information essential to those considering the need to adapt to the impacts of climate change in Scotland. A stakeholder survey was conducted in order to ensure the capture of key variables. The findings of the study are presented in summary form as a Handbook, with the full details of the analysis being given in this technical handbook.
When descriptions of our changing climate are presented in terms of nationally averaged annual mean statistics, significant regional and seasonal variations can be masked. This technical report describes the analysis of a number of high-resolution datasets. These are based upon data from a dense network of observing stations that has been gridded using some of the latest data regression and interpolation techniques. The datasets include temperature and precipitation from 1914 to 2004, sunshine from 1929 to 2004, and a range of other variables, such as mean sea level and snow cover, from 1961. A number of quantities based upon either temperature or rainfall, such as growing season length and rainfall intensity, have also been derived. These datasets have been analysed in order to identify patterns of change in the Scottish climate over time and space.

Key findings
This study is focused upon the identification of trends in Scottish climate and providing the regional and spatial detail that national averages mask.  The study does not seek to explain, or attribute a cause, for identified trends. Although some of the trends identified are consistent with projected future climate for Scotland, it is not possible to say that the trends are evidence of man-made, i.e. anthropogenic, climate change. However, many of the trends identified are significant and therefore beyond the range expected from natural variability.  Whether or not the changes are due to anthropogenic climate change it is clear that these observed trends are often comparable with those predicted for the future.  This means that Scotland already has experience of the impact of such changes and is therefore well placed to plan the necessary adaptation measures for the future.  
Key words: Scotland, climate change, observed trends

N.B. The report is available for download from the SNIFFER Website

The Technical Report and Handbook are each available separately in electronic format at £20.00 + VAT
Hard copy available at the following prices:
Technical Report £35.00
A Handbook of Climate trends across Scotland £25.00

All prices less 20% to FWR members.