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A 308-year record of climate variability in West Antarctica

The Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica have warmed dramatically in recent decades, with some records suggesting that these are among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. However, the lack of long-term instrumental records from this data-sparse region is hindering our ability to place these recent changes in a longer-term context. In this paper we present a new ice-core record from Ellsworth Land, which provides a valuable 308-year record (1702-2009) of climate variability from coastal West Antarctica. The new ice core was drilled on the ice divide between Pine Island Glacier and Ferrigno Glacier, two of the fastest flowing outlet glaciers in West Antarctica. The study analysed stable water isotopes in the ice core, which provide a record of past temperatures, to show that climate variability in this region is strongly driven by sea-surface temperatures and atmospheric pressure in the tropical Pacific.

The record shows that this region has warmed since the late 1950s, at a similar magnitude to that observed in the Antarctic Peninsula and central West Antarctica, however, this warming trend is not unique. More dramatic isotopic warming (and cooling) trends occurred in the mid-19th and 18th centuries, suggesting that at present the effect of anthropogenic climate drivers at this location has not exceeded the natural range of climate variability in the context of the past ~300 years.

Link to the full paper in the NERC Open Research Archive



Elizabeth R. Thomas, Thomas J. Bracegirdle, John Turner, Eric W. Wolff


Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2013GL057782, 2013