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Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 06 August 2009


Assessments of Antarctic temperature change have emphasized the contrast between strong warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and slight cooling of the Antarctic continental interior in recent decades1. This pattern of temperature change has been attributed to the increased strength of the circumpolar westerlies, largely in response to changes in stratospheric ozone2. This picture, however, is substantially incomplete owing to the sparseness and short duration of the observations. Here we show that significant warming extends well beyond the Antarctic Peninsula to cover most of West Antarctica, an area of warming much larger than previously reported. West Antarctic warming exceeds 0.1 °C per decade over the past 50 years, and is strongest in winter and spring. Although this is partly offset by autumn cooling in East Antarctica, the continent-wide average near-surface temperature trend is positive. Simulations using a general circulation model reproduce the essential features of the spatial pattern and the long-term trend, and we suggest that neither can be attributed directly to increases in the strength of the westerlies. Instead, regional changes in atmospheric circulation and associated changes in sea surface temperature and sea ice are required to explain the enhanced warming in West Antarctica.

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Figure 1: Verification and upper-limit calibration statistics calculated for each grid point from the comparison of reconstructed and original satellite-derived monthly temperature anomalies.
Figure 2: Reconstructed annual mean Antarctic temperature anomalies, January 1957 to December 2006.
Figure 3: Spatial pattern of temperature trends (degrees Celsius per decade) from reconstruction using infrared ( T IR ) satellite data.
Figure 4: Comparison of reconstructed and modelled mean annual temperature trends (degrees Celsius per decade) for the periods 1957–1981 and 1979–2003.

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E.J.S. and D.P.S. were supported by the US National Science Foundation, grant numbers OPP-0440414 and OPP-0126161, as part of the US ITASE programme. M.E.M. was supported by the US National Science Foundation, grant number OPP-0125670. We thank D. Winebrenner, A. Monaghan, D. Bromwich, J. Turner, P. Mayewski, T. Scambos, E. Bard and O. Bellier.

Author Contributions E.J.S., D.P.S., S.D.R. and M.E.M. made the reconstruction and statistical calculations. J.C.C. performed the cloud-masking calculations and provided the updated satellite data set. D.T.S. provided the general circulation model output and guided its interpretation. E.J.S. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Eric J. Steig.

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Steig, E., Schneider, D., Rutherford, S. et al. Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year. Nature 457, 459–462 (2009).

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