Global atmospheric teleconnections during Dansgaard–Oeschger events

Journal name:
Nature Geoscience
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Published online


During the last glacial period, the North Atlantic region experienced a series of Dansgaard–Oeschger cycles in which climate abruptly alternated between warm and cold periods. Corresponding variations in Antarctic surface temperature were out of phase with their Northern Hemisphere counterparts. The temperature relationship between the hemispheres is commonly attributed to an interhemispheric redistribution of heat by the ocean overturning circulation. Changes in ocean heat transport should be accompanied by changes in atmospheric circulation to satisfy global energy budget constraints. Although changes in tropical atmospheric circulation linked to abrupt events in the Northern Hemisphere are well documented, evidence for predicted changes in the Southern Hemispheres atmospheric circulation during Dansgaard–Oeschger cycles is lacking. Here we use a high-resolution deuterium-excess record from West Antarctica to show that the latitude of the mean moisture source for Antarctic precipitation changed in phase with abrupt shifts in Northern Hemisphere climate, and significantly before Antarctic temperature change. This provides direct evidence that Southern Hemisphere mid-latitude storm tracks shifted within decades of abrupt changes in the North Atlantic, in parallel with meridional migrations of the intertropical convergence zone. We conclude that both oceanic and atmospheric processes, operating on different timescales, link the hemispheres during abrupt climate change.

At a glance


  1. Comparison of deuterium-excess definitions for multiple ice cores.
    Figure 1: Comparison of deuterium-excess definitions for multiple ice cores.

    Anomalies are the deviation from the 10ka to 67ka mean. A low-pass, fourth-order Butterworth filter with a 1 cycle per 300yr cutoff frequency has been applied to all curves for visual clarity. a, Time series of dexcess for WDC (blue), EDML (red) and EDC (black). Correlation coefficient for WDC–EDML: 0.13; WDC–EDC: 0.25; EDC–EDML: 0.31. b, As above but for the dln definition. Correlation coefficient for WDC–EDML: 0.62; WDC–EDC: 0.68; EDC–EDML: 0.74.

  2. Proxy records from the last glacial period.
    Figure 2: Proxy records from the last glacial period.

    Greenland δ18 O record from NGRIP on 1.0063 × GICC05 chronology23 (black). WDC CH4 (gold), WDC δ18O (red), WDC dln (cyan) and filtered dln (blue) on the WD2014 chronology23. High-frequency variability (>1 cycle per 300yr) removed from filtered dln by a low-pass Butterworth filter for visual clarity. DO events are numbered and the timings of their midpoints are indicated by vertical grey lines.

  3. DO event compositing analysis.
    Figure 3: DO event compositing analysis.

    a,b, DO warming (a) and cooling (b) stacks for NGRIP δ18O (black), WDC CH4 (gold), WDC δ18O (red), and WDC dln (blue) with fits (bold; see Methods). WDC events are aligned on the midpoint of the abrupt WDC CH4 transition (yellow cross), which is set to lag the Greenland δ18O midpoint (black cross) by 56years (Methods). The timings of initial change points in all stacks (dots) are shown with respect to the Greenland δ18O midpoint, with 2σ uncertainty bars that reflect the full combination of age-scale, stacking, and change point detection uncertainties (see Methods).

  4. Schematic of spatial and temporal variability in moisture sources during an idealized DO/AIM cycle.
    Figure 4: Schematic of spatial and temporal variability in moisture sources during an idealized DO/AIM cycle.

    a, The modelled mean moisture source distribution (MSD(ϕ), black dashed) for WDC (Supplementary Information) is represented as a histogram of the latitude of initial evaporation. Modelled MSDs associated with strongly northward (red) and southward (blue) shifts in the position of the Southern Hemisphere winds are associated with DO warming (+) and cooling (−) events. The weighted-mean latitudes of the displaced MSDs are shown as dots along the bottom axis. b, Idealized spatial patterns of surface temperature during warm (AIM +) and cold (AIM-) phases of AIM events, showing the strong meridional gradient of SST(ϕ). ce, Schematics of the temporal evolution of the mean MSD latitude for WDC (c), the mean surface temperature anomaly in the Southern Ocean (d) and the mean sampled moisture source temperature resulting from the superposition of c and d (e). Shaded bands reflect the expected levels of internal noise for each variable. Details of the schematics are described in the Supplementary Information.


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Author information


  1. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1310, USA

    • Bradley R. Markle,
    • Eric J. Steig,
    • Spruce W. Schoenemann &
    • T. J. Fudge
  2. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1640, USA

    • Eric J. Steig &
    • Cecilia M. Bitz
  3. College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • Christo Buizert
  4. Centre for Ice and Climate, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen DKK-2100, Denmark

    • Joel B. Pedro
  5. Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93016, USA

    • Qinghua Ding
  6. Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • Tyler R. Jones &
    • James W. C. White
  7. Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

    • Todd Sowers


B.R.M. and E.J.S. wrote the paper and conducted data analysis with assistance from C.B. and J.B.P.  Q.D. and C.M.B. provided climate model output. B.R.M., E.J.S. and S.W.S. produced the water-isotope data with T.R.J. and J.W.C.W.  T.S. provided the CH4 data. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

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