Central West Antarctica among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth

Journal name:
Nature Geoscience
Year published:
Published online
Corrected online


There is clear evidence that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is contributing to sea-level rise. In contrast, West Antarctic temperature changes in recent decades remain uncertain. West Antarctica has probably warmed since the 1950s, but there is disagreement regarding the magnitude, seasonality and spatial extent of this warming. This is primarily because long-term near-surface temperature observations are restricted to Byrd Station in central West Antarctica, a data set with substantial gaps. Here, we present a complete temperature record for Byrd Station, in which observations have been corrected, and gaps have been filled using global reanalysis data and spatial interpolation. The record reveals a linear increase in annual temperature between 1958 and 2010 by 2.4±1.2°C, establishing central West Antarctica as one of the fastest-warming regions globally. We confirm previous reports of West Antarctic warming, in annual average and in austral spring and winter, but find substantially larger temperature increases. In contrast to previous studies, we report statistically significant warming during austral summer, particularly in December–January, the peak of the melting season. A continued rise in summer temperatures could lead to more frequent and extensive episodes of surface melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. These results argue for a robust long-term meteorological observation network in the region.

At a glance


  1. Map of Antarctica and annual spatial footprint of the Byrd temperature record.
    Figure 1: Map of Antarctica and annual spatial footprint of the Byrd temperature record.

    The colour shadings show the correlation between the annual mean temperatures at Byrd and the annual mean temperatures at every other grid point in Antarctica. The correlations are computed using ERA-Interim 2-metre temperature time series from 1979 to 2011. The star symbol denotes the location of Byrd Station/AWS. The filled black circles denote the locations of permanent research stations with long-term temperature records (FV, Faraday/Vernadsky).

  2. Temperature time series from the reconstructed Byrd record.
    Figure 2: Temperature time series from the reconstructed Byrd record.

    ae, Annual (a) and seasonal (be) mean temperature time series. Red markers denote the portions of the record for which >1/3 of the observations are missing; black markers are used otherwise. The solid grey line represents the centred 5-year moving average temperature. The histograms (right vertical axis) show the number of monthly mean temperature observations available per year or per season. For summer (DJF), the year refers to January.

  3. Linear temperature trends at Byrd.
    Figure 3: Linear temperature trends at Byrd.

    a,b, Linear trends in the annual and seasonal mean temperature at Byrd during 1958–2010 (a) and 1980–2010 (b). DJ denotes the December–January average. The error bars denote the 95% confidence interval. Trends significant above (below) the 95% level are shown in red (grey). Details on the error calculation are given in the Methods. The trend values and their statistical significance are given in Supplementary Table S1. c, Annual mean surface temperature change (that is, trend×number of years) during 1958–2009 from our Byrd record (red and black circle) and from the CRUTEM4 data set50 (background map).

  4. Comparison of the temperature trends at Byrd from several reconstructions.
    Figure 4: Comparison of the temperature trends at Byrd from several reconstructions.

    Linear temperature trends for 1958–2005 from our reconstructed Byrd record (this study) and from other Antarctic temperature data sets (refs 6, 7, 14). For ref. 14, we use the updated version of its reconstructed Byrd record20. Further details about the data sets are given in Supplementary Table S2, along with the trend values. The error bars denote the 95% confidence interval and are calculated as explained in the Methods.

  5. Relationships between Byrd temperature and the atmospheric circulation during the three warming seasons.
    Figure 5: Relationships between Byrd temperature and the atmospheric circulation during the three warming seasons.

    ac, Linear trends in seasonal mean Z500 from ERA-Interim during 1979–2009. The thick black dashed lines denote the 95% significance level of the trends. df, Correlations (r) between Byrd temperatures and Z500 calculated for 1979–2009. The correlations are performed with detrended time series. Areas with r>0.5 over West Antarctica are denoted with a thick red line. Solid thin red contours and dashed blue contours denote positive and negative correlations, respectively. gi, Times series of seasonal mean temperature at Byrd (black line) and Z500 averaged over boxes 1, 2 and 3 in d,e and f, respectively (red line). The black arrows in af show the direction of the prevailing warm air advection.

Change history

Corrected online 23 December 2013
In the version of this Article originally published, some information in Fig. 3a,b and in the Supplementary Information was incorrect. A full explanation of the calculation errors and their corrections, including an updated Fig. 3a,b, can be found in the corresponding Corrigendum.


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Author information

  1. These authors contributed equally to this work

    • David H. Bromwich &
    • Julien P. Nicolas


  1. Polar Meteorology Group, Byrd Polar Research Center, and Atmospheric Sciences Program, Department of Geography, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA

    • David H. Bromwich,
    • Julien P. Nicolas &
    • Aaron B. Wilson
  2. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado 80307, USA

    • Andrew J. Monaghan
  3. Antarctic Meteorological Research Center, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Matthew A. Lazzara
  4. Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Linda M. Keller &
    • George A. Weidner


D.H.B., J.P.N. and A.J.M. designed the research. D.H.B. and J.P.N. performed the temperature reconstruction and wrote the paper. D.H.B., J.P.N. and A.B.W. analysed the results. M.A.L., L.M.K. and G.A.W. tested the AWS hardware and provided corrected AWS data. All authors commented on the manuscript.

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