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Synchronicity of Antarctic temperatures and local solar insolation on orbital timescales



The Milankovitch theory states that global climate variability on orbital timescales from tens to hundreds of thousands of years is dominated by the summer insolation at high northern latitudes1,2. The supporting evidence includes reconstructed air temperatures in Antarctica that are nearly in phase with boreal summer insolation and out of phase with local summer insolation3,4,5. Antarctic climate is therefore thought to be driven by northern summer insolation5. A clear mechanism that links the two hemispheres on orbital timescales is, however, missing. We propose that key Antarctic temperature records derived from ice cores are biased towards austral winter because of a seasonal cycle in snow accumulation. Using present-day estimates of this bias in the ‘recorder’ system, here we show that the local insolation can explain the orbital component of the temperature record without having to invoke a link to the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore, the Antarctic ice-core-derived temperature record, one of the best-dated records of the late Pleistocene temperature evolution, cannot be used to support or contradict the Milankovitch hypothesis that global climate changes are driven by Northern Hemisphere summer insolation variations.

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Figure 1: Relationship of daily local insolation and surface air temperature.
Figure 2: Seasonal cycle of accumulation and insolation anomaly.
Figure 3: Comparison of the temperature reconstruction with the accumulation-weighted insolation.


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We thank K. Fujita for providing the original data of δ18O measurements from precipitation samples and the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) for providing meteorological data sets of Vostok station. The work benefited from discussions with S. Kipfstuhl, O. Eisen and V. Masson-Delmotte, as well as from comments by P. Huybers and K. Kawamura.

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T.L. designed the study, performed the statistical analysis, and wrote the paper. Both M.W. and G.L. contributed significantly to the discussion of results and manuscript refinement.

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Correspondence to Thomas Laepple.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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This file contains Supplementary Notes 1-7, Supplementary Tables 1-2, Supplementary Figures 1-17 with legends and additional references. (PDF 19679 kb)

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Laepple, T., Werner, M. & Lohmann, G. Synchronicity of Antarctic temperatures and local solar insolation on orbital timescales. Nature 471, 91–94 (2011).

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