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The significance of recent Antarctic Peninsula warming documented by a Holocene ice core record

Nerilie Abram1 and Robert Mulvaney2

1 Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
2 British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, Cambridge CB3 0ET, United Kingdom

Analysis of the first ice core record from the Antarctic Peninsula spanning the whole of the Holocene interval has shed new light on the significance of recent rapid warming on the Antarctic Peninsula.  

Over the last 50 years, the rate of warming on the Antarctic Peninsula has been the fastest of anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, and this rapid warming has been implicated in the collapse of ice shelves and accelerated glacier mass loss across the region. New ice core research has now been able to put these short observational records of Antarctic Peninsula climate change into a geological perspective.

Using water isotopes in the ice core, it was found that warming of the Antarctic Peninsula began around 600 years ago (Mulvaney et al., 2012; Abram et al., submitted). Although the mean temperatures experienced on the Antarctic Peninsula over recent decades are not unprecedented, the rapid rate of warming over the last century is highly unusual and is in the upper 0.3% of all century-scale trends over the last 2000 years.

Comparison of the Holocene temperature reconstruction with records of ice shelf presence along the northeastern Antarctic Peninsula, shows that there has been a strong connection between past atmospheric temperature and ice-shelf stability. If warming of the Antarctic Peninsula continues then it is likely that ice-shelf vulnerability will encroach farther southward to affect ice shelves that have been stable throughout the Holocene.



Nerilie Abram is supported by a Queen Elizabeth II fellowship awarded by the Australian Research Council under Discovery Grant DP110101161


Abram, N.J., Mulvaney, R., Wolff, E.W., Triest, J., Kipfstuhl, S., Trusel, L.D., Vimeux, F., Fleet, L. and Arrowsmith, C. (submitted) Warming and associated ice melt on the Antarctic Peninsula during the last millennium. Nature Geoscience.

Mulvaney, R., Abram, N.J., Gagan, M.K., Hindmarsh, R.C.A., Arrowsmith, C. Fleet, L., Triest, J., Sime, L.C., Alemaney, O. and Foord, S. (2012) Recent Antarctic Peninsula warming relative to Holocene climate and ice-shelf history. Nature 489, 141-144.

Figure 2. The logistics for the ice core drilling campaign, which involved transporting more than 8 tonnes of equipment to and from the site, were provided by the British Antarctic Survey and the British Royal Navy ship HMS Endurance. Photo credit: Robert Mulvaney.