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Modelled glacier response to centennial temperature and precipitation trends on the Antarctic Peninsula


The northern Antarctic Peninsula is currently undergoing rapid atmospheric warming1. Increased glacier-surface melt during the twentieth century2,3 has contributed to ice-shelf collapse and the widespread acceleration4, thinning and recession5 of glaciers. Therefore, glaciers peripheral to the Antarctic Ice Sheet currently make a large contribution to eustatic sea-level rise6,7, but future melting may be offset by increased precipitation8. Here we assess glacier–climate relationships both during the past and into the future, using ice-core and geological data and glacier and climate numerical model simulations. Focusing on Glacier IJR45 on James Ross Island, northeast Antarctic Peninsula, our modelling experiments show that this representative glacier is most sensitive to temperature change, not precipitation change. We determine that its most recent expansion occurred during the late Holocene ‘Little Ice Age’ and not during the warmer mid-Holocene, as previously proposed9. Simulations using a range of future Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate scenarios indicate that future increases in precipitation are unlikely to offset atmospheric-warming-induced melt of peripheral Antarctic Peninsula glaciers.

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Figure 1: Study context.
Figure 2: Response-time and sensitivity test results.
Figure 3: Temperature and precipitation sensitivity experiments.
Figure 4: Holocene and future simulations of glacier length.

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This work was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) under the Antarctic Funding Initiative grant (NE/F012942/1), awarded to N.F.G. and M.J.H., and a SCAR (Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research) Fellowship awarded to B.J.D. to visit the Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington. Transport logistics and fieldwork on James Ross Island were supported by the British Antarctic Survey, and we thank the captain and crew of the RRS Ernest Shackleton and the RRS James Clark Ross for their support. We thank A. Hill for his field logistical support. We thank the Czech Geological Survey for providing topographical and glaciological data. N. Abram provided a thinning and ice-flow-corrected ice-core accumulation record from the 2007 James Ross Island ice core (AD 1807–2007). We also acknowledge the Netherlands Polar Program of NWO/ALW and the ice2sea project, funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme through grant number 226375, ice2sea manuscript number 174.

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B.J.D. conducted fieldwork, planned and undertook the modelling, and led the writing and the compilation of the graphics and tables. N.R.G. wrote the flowline model and contributed to the modelling effort. N.F.G. conducted fieldwork and designed the original field-based project. J.L.C. contributed to the original field-based project design and the fieldwork. M.J.H. and J.L.S. contributed to the original project design. N.E.B., S.R.M.L. and M.R.v.d.B. provided projections of future climate around the Antarctic Peninsula. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bethan J. Davies.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Davies, B., Golledge, N., Glasser, N. et al. Modelled glacier response to centennial temperature and precipitation trends on the Antarctic Peninsula. Nature Clim Change 4, 993–998 (2014).

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