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Insights from Antarctica on volcanic forcing during the Common Era


Assessments of climate sensitivity to projected greenhouse gas concentrations underpin environmental policy decisions, with such assessments often based on model simulations of climate during recent centuries and millennia1,2,3. These simulations depend critically on accurate records of past aerosol forcing from global-scale volcanic eruptions, reconstructed from measurements of sulphate deposition in ice cores4,5,6. Non-uniform transport and deposition of volcanic fallout mean that multiple records from a wide array of ice cores must be combined to create accurate reconstructions. Here we re-evaluated the record of volcanic sulphate deposition using a much more extensive array of Antarctic ice cores. In our new reconstruction, many additional records have been added and dating of previously published records corrected through precise synchronization to the annually dated West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide ice core7, improving and extending the record throughout the Common Era. Whereas agreement with existing reconstructions is excellent after 1500, we found a substantially different history of volcanic aerosol deposition before 1500; for example, global aerosol forcing values from some of the largest eruptions (for example, 1257 and 1458) previously were overestimated by 20–30% and others underestimated by 20–50%.

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Figure 1: Time series of volcanic sulphate deposition over Antarctica.
Figure 2: New high-resolution ice core sulphur records from Antarctica between 1 and 2000.
Figure 3: Comparison of AVS-2k with existing deposition histories.


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This work is financially supported through the US National Science Foundation grants 0538416, 0538427, 0839093 (to J.R.M.), 0632031 (to S.B.D.), and 0739780 (to R.E.). The authors appreciate the support of the WAIS Divide Science Coordination Office (M. Twickler and J. Souney) for collection and distribution of the WAIS Divide ice core; Ice Drilling and Design and Operations (K. Dahnert) for drilling; the National Ice Core Laboratory (B. Bencivengo) for curating the core; Raytheon Polar Services (M. Kippenhan) for logistics support in Antarctica; and the 109th New York Air National Guard for airlift in Antarctica. We thank the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition and the Dome Fuji drilling team for drilling of the DFS10 core. Y.M. acknowledges the Funding Program for Next Generation World-Leading Researchers (NEXT Program, Grant Number GR098) supported by the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. This work was supported by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research in Germany (BMBF) through the research program ‘MiKlip’ (FKZ:01LP130B). Computations were done at the German Climate Computer Center (DKRZ).

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The manuscript was written by M.Sigl, J.R.M. and M.T., with input from all other co-authors; ice core analysis was performed by M.Sigl, J.R.M., R.E., L.L., O.J.M., Y.M. and D.R.P.; M.C., S.B.D., E.I., S.K., K.Kawamura, H.M. and M.Severi provided access to ice cores; M.Sigl and J.R.M. developed timescales; M.T. and K.Krüger performed model simulations.

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Correspondence to Michael Sigl.

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Sigl, M., McConnell, J., Toohey, M. et al. Insights from Antarctica on volcanic forcing during the Common Era. Nature Clim Change 4, 693–697 (2014).

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