Trends of temperature variability: Which variability and what health implications?

Sci Total Environ. 2021 May 10;768:144487. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144487. Epub 2021 Jan 6.


A large majority of climate change studies carried out to date are on changes in mean climate, which have comparatively downplayed variability. In terms of trend analysis or forecast, the scientific output and common knowledge for global warming are much more robust than for changes in temperature variability. Quantification of temperature variability adds another dimension of temporal scale, requiring immense labor and presenting great uncertainty. Regardless, this endeavor is necessary since changes in ambient temperature variabilities could also contribute to current and future human health burden besides changes in mean quantities. Here, we review the current literature on trends of surface air temperature variability defined at a range of timescales, aiming to tease out the welter of evidence and thus improving the scientific recognition of changes in air temperature variability in the context of climate change. The findings of reviewed studies from numerous regions differ substantially over various temporal scales. In general, the ambient temperature variability on short time scales (e.g., diurnal or inter-day) shows a downward trend, while it is increasing on longer time scales (e.g., inter-annual). We then move beyond the review and deliver an extended discussion of potential implications for future research related to ambient temperature variability. We highlight the need to consider the methodological choices, especially timescales of interest, in the trend analysis as well as health impact studies. Continued research focusing on temperature variability at multiple timescales, with concerted efforts from scientists of all relevant stripes, is meaningful in synthesizing knowledge and reducing uncertainties surrounding air temperature variability.

Keywords: Ambient temperature variability; Climate change; Public health; Temporal trend; Timescales.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Climate Change*
  • Global Warming*
  • Humans
  • Temperature
  • Uncertainty