Analyses of the year-month mean maximum and minimum surface thermometric record have now been updated and expanded to cover three large countries in the Northern Hemisphere (the contiguous United States, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China). They indicate that most of the warming which has occurred in these regions over the past four decades can be attributed to an increase of mean minimum (mostly nighttime) temperatures. Mean maximum (mostly daytime) temperatures display little or no warming. In the USA and the USSR (no access to data in China) similar characteristics are also reflected in the changes of extreme seasonal temperatures, e.g., increase of extreme minimum temperatures and little or no change in extreme maximum temperatures. The continuation of increasing minimum temperatures and little overall change of the maximum leads to a decrease of the mean (and extreme) temperature range, an important measure of climate variability.
The cause(s) of the asymmetric diurnal changes are uncertain, but there is some evidence to suggest that changes in cloud cover plays a direct role (where increases in cloudiness result in reduced maximum and higher minimum temperatures). Regardless of the exact cause(s), these results imply that either: (1) climate model projections considering the expected change in the diurnal temperature range with increased levels of the greenhouse gases are underestimating (overestimating) the rise of the daily minimum (maximum) relative to the maximum (minimum), or (2) the observed warming in a considerable portion of the Northern Hemisphere landmass is significantly affected by factors unrelated to an enhanced anthropogenically-induced greenhouse effect.