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Holocene Southern Ocean surface temperature variability west of the Antarctic Peninsula

An Erratum to this article was published on 13 April 2011

This article has been updated


The disintegration of ice shelves, reduced sea-ice and glacier extent, and shifting ecological zones observed around Antarctica1,2 highlight the impact of recent atmospheric3 and oceanic warming4 on the cryosphere. Observations1,2 and models5,6 suggest that oceanic and atmospheric temperature variations at Antarctica's margins affect global cryosphere stability, ocean circulation, sea levels and carbon cycling. In particular, recent climate changes on the Antarctic Peninsula have been dramatic, yet the Holocene climate variability of this region is largely unknown, limiting our ability to evaluate ongoing changes within the context of historical variability and underlying forcing mechanisms. Here we show that surface ocean temperatures at the continental margin of the western Antarctic Peninsula cooled by 3–4 °C over the past 12,000 years, tracking the Holocene decline of local (65° S) spring insolation. Our results, based on TEX86 sea surface temperature (SST) proxy evidence from a marine sediment core, indicate the importance of regional summer duration as a driver of Antarctic seasonal sea-ice fluctuations7. On millennial timescales, abrupt SST fluctuations of 2–4 °C coincide with globally recognized climate variability8. Similarities between our SSTs, Southern Hemisphere westerly wind reconstructions9 and El Niño/Southern Oscillation variability10 indicate that present climate teleconnections between the tropical Pacific Ocean and the western Antarctic Peninsula11 strengthened late in the Holocene epoch. We conclude that during the Holocene, Southern Ocean temperatures at the western Antarctic Peninsula margin were tied to changes in the position of the westerlies, which have a critical role in global carbon cycling9,12.

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Figure 1: Western Antarctic Peninsula study location and oceanography.
Figure 2: Magnetic susceptibility 21 , abundance of Chaetoceros resting spores 22 and TEX 86 -derived SSTs versus calendar age, at ODP Site 1098.
Figure 3: Orbital-scale Holocene SST trends at ODP Site 1098 compared with insolation, Antarctic ice-core and sub-Antarctic Pacific Ocean SST records.
Figure 4: Millennial-scale Holocene SST variability at ODP Site 1098 compared with Ross-Sea-sector Antarctic ice-core records, southeastern and western equatorial Pacific SSTs and Holocene ENSO frequency.

Change history

  • 14 April 2011

    At the end of the paragraph starting ‘The near-synchronous millennial-scale response...’, “500 kyr BP” was changed to “500 years BP.


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We thank R. Murray and K. Kryc for the ODP Hole 1098B samples, F. Lamy for the ODP Site 1233/GEOB3313 alkenone data set, S. Emerson, K. Kreutz, R. Dunbar, M. Maslin, R. Anderson, A. Newton, A. Pearson and A. Tudhope for discussions, and J. Sachs, O. Kawka and L. Truxal for assistance with alkenone measurements. This research used samples collected by the Ocean Drilling Program and the United States Antarctic Program. This research was supported by NSF grants OPP-0620099 (A.E.S. and A.E.I.) and OPP-0732467 (E.W.D.).

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Authors and Affiliations



A.E.S. and A.E.I. designed and contributed equally to the study. A.E.S. analysed the TEX86 and isotope data (in the laboratory of J.P. Kennett) and wrote the paper. A.E.I. analysed the alkenone samples. E.W.D. provided surface sediment samples and regional climate expertise. C.K. prepared the samples. A.E.S., A.E.I. and E.W.D. discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. E. Shevenell.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

The file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary Figures 1-4 with legends, Supplementary Tables 1-3 and additional references. (PDF 671 kb)

Supplementary Dataset 1

This file contains 1098 TEX data. (XLS 53 kb)

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Shevenell, A., Ingalls, A., Domack, E. et al. Holocene Southern Ocean surface temperature variability west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Nature 470, 250–254 (2011).

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