Letter | Published:

One-to-one coupling of glacial climate variability in Greenland and Antarctica



Precise knowledge of the phase relationship between climate changes in the two hemispheres is a key for understanding the Earth’s climate dynamics. For the last glacial period, ice core studies1,2 have revealed strong coupling of the largest millennial-scale warm events in Antarctica with the longest Dansgaard–Oeschger events in Greenland3,4,5 through the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation6,7,8. It has been unclear, however, whether the shorter Dansgaard–Oeschger events have counterparts in the shorter and less prominent Antarctic temperature variations, and whether these events are linked by the same mechanism. Here we present a glacial climate record derived from an ice core from Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica, which represents South Atlantic climate at a resolution comparable with the Greenland ice core records. After methane synchronization with an ice core from North Greenland9, the oxygen isotope record from the Dronning Maud Land ice core shows a one-to-one coupling between all Antarctic warm events and Greenland Dansgaard–Oeschger events by the bipolar seesaw6. The amplitude of the Antarctic warm events is found to be linearly dependent on the duration of the concurrent stadial in the North, suggesting that they all result from a similar reduction in the meridional overturning circulation.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

A full list of authors and their affiliations appears at the end of the paper.


  1. 1

    Blunier, T. & Brook, E. J. Timing of millennial-scale climate change in Antarctica and Greenland during the last glacial period. Science 291, 109–112 (2001)

  2. 2

    Blunier, T. et al. Asynchrony of Antarctic and Greenland climate change during the last glacial period. Nature 394, 739–743 (1998)

  3. 3

    Johnsen, S. J. et al. Irregular glacial interstadials recorded in a new Greenland ice core. Nature 359, 311–313 (1992)

  4. 4

    Bond, G. et al. Correlations between records from North Atlantic sediments and Greenland ice. Nature 365, 143–147 (1993)

  5. 5

    McManus, J. F., Oppo, D. W. & Cullen, J. L. A 0.5-million-year record of millennial climate variability in the North Atlantic. Science 283, 971–975 (1999)

  6. 6

    Stocker, T. F. & Johnsen, S. J. A minimum thermodynamic model of the bipolar seesaw. Paleoceanography 18, art. no. 1087 (2003)

  7. 7

    Knutti, R., Flückiger, J., Stocker, T. F. & Timmermann, A. Strong hemispheric coupling of glacial climate through freshwater discharge and ocean circulation. Nature 430, 851–856 (2004)

  8. 8

    Ganopolski, A. & Rahmstorf, S. Rapid changes of glacial climate simulated in a coupled climate model. Nature 409, 153–158 (2001)

  9. 9

    North Greenland Ice Core Project members. High resolution climate record of the northern hemisphere reaching into the last interglacial period. Nature 431, 147–151 (2004)

  10. 10

    Landais, A. et al. Quantification of rapid temperature change during DO event 12 and phasing with methane inferred from air isotopic measurements. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 225, 221–232 (2004)

  11. 11

    Huber, C. et al. Isotope calibrated Greenland temperature record over Marine Isotope Stage 3 and its relation to CH4 . Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 245, 504–519 (2006)

  12. 12

    EPICA community members. Eight glacial cycles from an Antarctic ice core. Nature 429, 623–628 (2004)

  13. 13

    Watanabe, O. et al. Homogeneous climate variability across East Antarctica over the past three glacial cycles. Nature 422, 509–512 (2003)

  14. 14

    Roe, G. H. & Steig, E. J. Characterization of millennial-scale climate variability. J. Clim. 17, 1929–1944 (2004)

  15. 15

    Oerter, H. et al. Accumulation rates in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica, as revealed by dielectric-profiling measurements of shallow firn cores. Ann. Glaciol. 30, 27–34 (2000)

  16. 16

    Reijmer, C. H., van den Broeke, M. R. & Scheele, M. P. Air parcel trajectories to five deep drilling locations on Antarctica, based on the ERA-15 data set. J. Clim. 15, 1957–1968 (2002)

  17. 17

    Petit, J. R. et al. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399, 429–436 (1999)

  18. 18

    Basile, I. et al. Patagonian origin of glacial dust deposited in East Antarctica (Vostok and Dome C) during glacial stages 2, 4 and 6. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 146, 573–589 (1997)

  19. 19

    Bianchi, C. & Gersonde, R. The Southern Ocean surface between Marine Isotope Stage 6 and 5d: Shape and timing of climate changes. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 187, 151–177 (2002)

  20. 20

    Rasmussen, S. O. et al. A new Greenland ice core chronology for the last glacial termination. J. Geophys. Res. 111, D06102 (2006)

  21. 21

    Andersen, K. K. et al. The Greenland ice core chronology 2005, 15–42 kyr. Part 1: Constructing the time scale. Quat. Sci. Rev. (in the press).

  22. 22

    Stenni, B. et al. A late-glacial high-resolution site and source temperature record derived from the EPICA Dome C isotope records (East Antarctica). Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 217, 183–195 (2003)

  23. 23

    Raisbeck, G., Yiou, F. & Jouzel, J. Cosmogenic 10Be as a high resolution correlation tool for climate records. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 66, abstr. A623 (2002)

  24. 24

    Shackleton, N. J., Hall, M. A. & Vincent, E. Phase relationships between millennial-scale events 64,000–24,000 years ago. Paleoceanography 15, 565–569 (2000)

  25. 25

    Rahmstorf, S. Ocean circulation and climate during the past 120,000 years. Nature 419, 207–214 (2002)

  26. 26

    Röthlisberger, R. et al. Dust and sea-salt variability in central East Antarctica (Dome C) over the last 45 kyrs and its implications for southern high-latitude climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, article no. 1963 (2002)

  27. 27

    Bond, G. & Lotti, R. Iceberg discharges into the North Atlantic on millennial time scales during the last glaciation. Science 267, 1005–1010 (1995)

  28. 28

    de Abreu, L., Shackleton, N. J., Joachim Schönfeld, J., Hall, M. & Chapman, M. Millennial-scale oceanic climate variability off the Western Iberian margin during the last two glacial periods. Mar. Geol. 196, 1–20 (2003)

  29. 29

    Knorr, G. & Lohmann, G. Southern Ocean origin for the resumption of Atlantic thermohaline circulation during deglaciation. Nature 424, 532–536 (2003)

  30. 30

    Stocker, T. F. & Wright, D. G. Rapid transitions of the ocean's deep circulation induced by changes in surface water fluxes. Nature 351, 729–732 (1991)

Download references


This work is a contribution to the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA), a joint European Science Foundation/European Commission scientific programme, funded by the EU (EPICA-MIS) and by national contributions from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. The main logistic support was provided by IPEV and PNRA (at Dome C) and AWI (at Dronning Maud Land).

Author information

Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to H. Fischer.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Notes

    This file provides details on the new EDC3/EDML1 age scale, on the CH4 synchronization of EDML and NGRIP, on systematic effects in δ18O which have been corrected for at EDML as well as how temperatures and accumulation rates have been derived from δ18O at EDML. Includes supplementary figures S1 (map of Antarctica indicating drill sites), S2 (details on CH4 synchronization uncertainty) and S3 (correction of EDML δ18O record). (PDF 292 kb)

  2. Supplementary Table 1

    δ18O record from Dronning Maud Land in 0.5 m resolution. For the upper 125 m δ18O data in 1 m resolution from the shallow ice core DML05 (drilled 2 km away from the deep drilling site) has been added after splicing the two records unambiguously using pronounced volcanic horizons. The table lists the measured δ18O values over depth and the respective age according to the EDML1/EDC3 age scale together with δ18O values after correcting for the sea level effect and after sea level plus upstream correction. (XLS 685 kb)

  3. Supplementary Table 2

    EDML δ18O record in 100 yr resolution on the GICC05 age scale in the time window 10-51 kyr BP after CH4 synchronization as used in Figure 2. Listed are the measured δ18O data vs. GICC05 age, the sea level corrected δ18O data and the sea level plus upstream corrected δ18O values. (XLS 47 kb)

  4. Supplementary Table 3

    EDML CH4 data after matching to the Greenland CH4 composite. Listed are the measured CH4 concentrations vs. depth and the respective GICC05 age. (XLS 36 kb)

Rights and permissions

To obtain permission to re-use content from this article visit RightsLink.

About this article

Further reading

Figure 1: Antarctic stable isotope records show synchronous millennial variations during the last glacial, whereas rapid variations are encountered in Greenland.
Figure 2: Methane synchronization of the EDML and the NGRIP records reveals a one‐to‐one assignment of each Antarctic warming with a corresponding stadial in Greenland.
Figure 3: Amplitudes of Antarctic warmings show a linear relationship ( r 2  = 0.85) with the duration of the accompanying stadial in Greenland during MIS3.


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.