• solar brightening;
  • greenhouse warming;
  • climate change


At low elevations (500 m a.s.l.) Central Europe's surface temperature increased about 1.3 °C since 1981. Interestingly, at high elevations (2200 m a.s.l.) in the Alps, temperature rose less than 1 °C over the same period. Detailed investigations of temperature, humidity and the radiation budget at lowland and alpine climate stations now show that the difference in temperature rise is likely related to unequal solar- and greenhouse warming. The analysis shows that the important decline of anthropogenic aerosols in Europe since the mid-1980s led to solar brightening at low elevations, whereas inherent low aerosol concentrations at high elevations led to only minor changes of solar radiation in the Alps. In the Lowland, absolute humidity and also total net radiation show an about 6% K−1 Clausius–Clapeyron conform increase with temperature since the 1980s. In the Alps, however, the percentage increase rate of humidity and total net radiation is more than twice as large. This large water vapour increase in the Alps is likely related to strong warming and thermal advection in the Lowlands, and may also have increased due to atmospheric circulation changes. Hence, while in the Alps temperature increased primarily due to strong water vapour enhanced greenhouse warming, solar brightening combined with anthropogenic greenhouse gas and water vapour feedback greenhouse warming led to a higher temperature increase at low elevations in Central Europe. Copyright © 2012 Royal Meteorological Society