Decadal–Interdecadal Climate Variability over Antarctica and Linkages to the Tropics: Analysis of Ice Core, Instrumental, and Tropical Proxy Data

Yuko M. Okumura Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, and Climate and Global Dynamics Division, NCAR,* Boulder, Colorado

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David Schneider Climate and Global Dynamics Division, NCAR,* Boulder, Colorado

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Clara Deser Climate and Global Dynamics Division, NCAR,* Boulder, Colorado

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Rob Wilson School of Geography and Geosciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom

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Abstract

The Antarctic continent contains the majority of the global ice volume and plays an important role in a changing climate. The nature and causes of Antarctic climate variability are, however, poorly understood beyond interannual time scales due to the paucity of long, reliable meteorological observations. This study analyzes decadal–interdecadal climate variability over Antarctica using a network of annually resolved ice core records and various instrumental and tropical proxy data for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the twentieth century, Antarctic ice core records indicate strong linkages to sea surface temperature (SST) variations in the tropical Pacific and Atlantic on decadal–interdecadal time scales. Antarctic surface temperature anomalies inferred from the ice cores are consistent with the associated changes in atmospheric circulation and thermal advection. A set of atmospheric general circulation model experiments supports the idea that decadal SST variations in the tropics force atmospheric teleconnections that affect Antarctic surface temperatures. When coral and other proxies for tropical climate are used to extend the analysis back to 1799, a similar Antarctic–tropical Pacific linkage is found, although the relationship is weaker during the first half of the nineteenth century. Over the past 50 years, a change in the phase of Pacific and Atlantic interdecadal variability may have contributed to the rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica and related changes in ice sheet dynamics.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Yuko M. Okumura, Institute for Geophysics, The John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, J. J. Pickle Research Campus, Bldg. 196, 10100 Burnet Rd., Austin, TX 78758. E-mail: yukoo@ig.utexas.edu

Abstract

The Antarctic continent contains the majority of the global ice volume and plays an important role in a changing climate. The nature and causes of Antarctic climate variability are, however, poorly understood beyond interannual time scales due to the paucity of long, reliable meteorological observations. This study analyzes decadal–interdecadal climate variability over Antarctica using a network of annually resolved ice core records and various instrumental and tropical proxy data for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the twentieth century, Antarctic ice core records indicate strong linkages to sea surface temperature (SST) variations in the tropical Pacific and Atlantic on decadal–interdecadal time scales. Antarctic surface temperature anomalies inferred from the ice cores are consistent with the associated changes in atmospheric circulation and thermal advection. A set of atmospheric general circulation model experiments supports the idea that decadal SST variations in the tropics force atmospheric teleconnections that affect Antarctic surface temperatures. When coral and other proxies for tropical climate are used to extend the analysis back to 1799, a similar Antarctic–tropical Pacific linkage is found, although the relationship is weaker during the first half of the nineteenth century. Over the past 50 years, a change in the phase of Pacific and Atlantic interdecadal variability may have contributed to the rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica and related changes in ice sheet dynamics.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Yuko M. Okumura, Institute for Geophysics, The John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, J. J. Pickle Research Campus, Bldg. 196, 10100 Burnet Rd., Austin, TX 78758. E-mail: yukoo@ig.utexas.edu
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