Letter | Published:

Absence of 21st century warming on Antarctic Peninsula consistent with natural variability

Nature volume 535, pages 411415 (21 July 2016) | Download Citation


Since the 1950s, research stations on the Antarctic Peninsula have recorded some of the largest increases in near-surface air temperature in the Southern Hemisphere1. This warming has contributed to the regional retreat of glaciers2, disintegration of floating ice shelves3 and a ‘greening’ through the expansion in range of various flora4. Several interlinked processes have been suggested as contributing to the warming, including stratospheric ozone depletion5, local sea-ice loss6, an increase in westerly winds5,7, and changes in the strength and location of low–high-latitude atmospheric teleconnections8,9. Here we use a stacked temperature record to show an absence of regional warming since the late 1990s. The annual mean temperature has decreased at a statistically significant rate, with the most rapid cooling during the Austral summer. Temperatures have decreased as a consequence of a greater frequency of cold, east-to-southeasterly winds, resulting from more cyclonic conditions in the northern Weddell Sea associated with a strengthening mid-latitude jet. These circulation changes have also increased the advection of sea ice towards the east coast of the peninsula, amplifying their effects. Our findings cover only 1% of the Antarctic continent and emphasize that decadal temperature changes in this region are not primarily associated with the drivers of global temperature change but, rather, reflect the extreme natural internal variability of the regional atmospheric circulation.

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This work was financially supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council under grant NE/K00445X/1. It forms part of the Polar Science for Planet Earth programme of the British Antarctic Survey. We are grateful to D. G. Vaughan for valuable discussions during this study. We are grateful to ECMWF for the provision of reanalysis fields and to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center for the sea-ice data. The data used in this study are available from the authors upon request.

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  1. British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

    • John Turner
    • , Hua Lu
    • , Ian White
    • , John C. King
    • , Tony Phillips
    • , J. Scott Hosking
    • , Thomas J. Bracegirdle
    • , Gareth J. Marshall
    • , Robert Mulvaney
    •  & Pranab Deb


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J.T. conceived the study and led the writing of the manuscript. J.T., H.L., T.P., J.S.H., G.J.M., T.J.B. and J.C.K. analysed the results. P.D. investigated the role of tropical forcing. T.P. managed the data and prepared some of the figures. H.L. carried out the statistical analysis. R.M. compared the recent trends with palaeoclimate data. I.W. computed the stationary eddy fluxes.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to John Turner.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks W. Hobbs and E. Steig for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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