Sulphate–climate coupling over the past 300,000 years in inland Antarctica

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Sulphate aerosols, particularly micrometre-sized particles of sulphate salt and sulphate-adhered dust, can act as cloud condensation nuclei, leading to increased solar scattering that cools Earth’s climate1,2. Evidence for such a coupling may lie in the sulphate record from polar ice cores, but previous analyses of melted ice-core samples have provided only sulphate ion concentrations, which may be due to sulphuric acid3. Here we present profiles of sulphate salt and sulphate-adhered dust fluxes over the past 300,000 years from the Dome Fuji ice core in inland Antarctica. Our results show a nearly constant flux of sulphate-adhered dust through glacial and interglacial periods despite the large increases in total dust flux during glacial maxima4. The sulphate salt flux, however, correlates inversely with temperature, suggesting a climatic coupling between particulate sulphur and temperature. For example, the total sulphate salt flux during the Last Glacial Maximum averages 5.78 mg m−2 yr−1, which is almost twice the Holocene value. Although it is based on a modern analogue with considerable uncertainties when applied to the ice-core record, this analysis indicates that the glacial-to-interglacial decrease in sulphate would lessen the aerosol indirect effects on cloud lifetime and albedo, leading to an Antarctic warming of 0.1 to 5 kelvin.

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Figure 1: Oxygen isotope and salt mass ratios of the past 300 kyr (before ad  2000) in the Dome Fuji ice core.
Figure 2: Sulphate ion and salts fluxes.
Figure 3: Correlations of relevant fluxes to the temperature proxy δ 18 O.


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We thank all members of the JARE and the Ice Core Consortium for work at Dome Fuji; T. Takemura, R. Kudo, Y. Fujiyoshi and T. Aoki for comments on radiative forcing of aerosols; H. Ohno and T. Sakurai for comments on microparticles in the Dome Fuji ice core; K. Goto-Azuma, T. Kuramoto and H. Yamada for data management of ion and dust concentrations in the Dome Fuji ice core; and Y. Fujii for data on ion concentrations in the Site J firn core, used to calculate sulphate salts. Y.I. thanks M. Furusaki for help with EDS analyses and J. Nelson for help with revising the manuscript. This study was supported by Creative Scientific Research (grant number 14GS0202), Young Scientists (A) (grant number 23680001) and Scientific Research (S) (grant number 21221002), provided by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and the Grant for Joint Research Program of the Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University.

Author information

Y.I. ran the experiments and analysed data on statistical methods. Y.I., R.U., T.S, H.M. and T.H. discussed the results and commented on the manuscript. T.M. and M.H. provided the dust and ion data. Y.I. and R.U. wrote the paper. Y.I., H.M. and T.H. provided financial resources.

Correspondence to Yoshinori Iizuka.

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Iizuka, Y., Uemura, R., Motoyama, H. et al. Sulphate–climate coupling over the past 300,000 years in inland Antarctica. Nature 490, 81–84 (2012) doi:10.1038/nature11359

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