Understanding the causes of recent climatic trends and variability in the high-latitude Southern Hemisphere is hampered by a short instrumental record. Here, we analyse recent atmosphere, surface ocean and sea-ice observations in this region and assess their trends in the context of palaeoclimate records and climate model simulations. Over the 36-year satellite era, significant linear trends in annual mean sea-ice extent, surface temperature and sea-level pressure are superimposed on large interannual to decadal variability. Most observed trends, however, are not unusual when compared with Antarctic palaeoclimate records of the past two centuries. With the exception of the positive trend in the Southern Annular Mode, climate model simulations that include anthropogenic forcing are not compatible with the observed trends. This suggests that natural variability overwhelms the forced response in the observations, but the models may not fully represent this natural variability or may overestimate the magnitude of the forced response.

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We thank H. Diamond, I. Goodwin, J. McClean, J. Twedt, J. Severinghaus, C. Wilkinson, R. Wilson and U. Zajacazkovski for their contributions to the meeting at which this paper was planned. The meeting and this project were supported by the Climate and Cryosphere project of the World Climate Research Programme (through the Polar Climate Predictability Initiative) and the Government of Canada through the Federal Department of the Environment. We also thank Past Global Changes (PAGES) for supporting this meeting; D. McCutcheon for producing Supplementary Fig. 1; the SCAR-Reader project for providing the Antarctic station data; J. Nicolas and D. Bromwich for making the Antarctic surface temperature reconstruction available; the National Snow and Ice Data Centre for provision of the sea-ice data; the ECMWF for providing the Era Interim reanalysis; and NOAA for providing the SST data. We thank the many scientists who made their published palaeoclimate datasets available via public data repositories or personal requests, and we acknowledge the efforts of the PAGES Antarctica 2k working group in compiling many of the palaeoclimate records used in this study. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP. The US Department of Energy's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support for CMIP and led the development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

Support was provided by the following organizations: N.J.A: QEII fellowship and Discovery Project awarded by the Australian Research Council (ARC DP110101161 and DP140102059); M.H.E., ARC Laureate Fellowship (FL100100214); V.M.D., Agence Nationale de la Recherche, project ANR-14-CE01-0001 (ASUMA), and logistical support to French Antarctic studies from the Institut Polaire Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV); B.S., PAGES Antarctica 2k and the ESF-PolarClimate HOLOCLIP project; H.G., the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (F.R.S.-FNRS-Belgium), where he is Research Director; P.O.C., research grant ANPCyT PICT2012 2927; R.L.F., NSF grant 1341621; E.J.S., the Leverhulme Trust; S.T.G., NSF grants OCE-1234473 and PLR-1425989; D.P.S., NSF grant 1235231; NCAR is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF); G.R.S., NSF grants AGS-1206120 and AGS-1407360; D.S., the French ANR CEPS project Green Greenland (ANR-10-CEPL-0008); G.J.M., UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) through the British Antarctic Survey research programme Polar Science for Planet Earth; A.K.M., US Department of Energy under contract DE-SC0012457; K.R.C., VUW doctoral scholarship; L.M.F., Australian Research Council (FL100100214); D.J.C., NERC grant NE/H014896/1; C.d.L., UPMC doctoral scholarship; A.J.O., EU grant FP7-PEOPLE-2012-IIF 331615; X.C., the French ANR CLIMICE (ANR-08-CEXC-012-01) and the FP7 PAST4FUTURE (243908) projects; J.A.R., Marsden grant VUW1408; I.E., NSF grant OCE-1357078; T.R.V., the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centres programme, through the ACE CRC.

Author information


  1. Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK

    • Julie M. Jones
  2. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA

    • Sarah T. Gille
    •  & Ian Eisenman
  3. ELIC/TECLIM Université catholique de Louvain, Place Pasteur 3, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

    • Hugues Goosse
  4. Research School of Earth Sciences and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia

    • Nerilie J. Abram
  5. Unidad de Investigación y Desarrollo de las Ingenierías, Facultad Regional Buenos Aires, Universidad Tecnológica Nacional/CONICET, Argentina

    • Pablo O. Canziani
  6. Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, EX4 1RJ, UK

    • Dan J. Charman
  7. School of Geography, Environment, and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington 6012, New Zealand

    • Kyle R. Clem
    •  & James A. Renwick
  8. Environnements et Paléoenvironnements Océaniques et Continentaux (UMR EPOC 5805), University of Bordeaux, Allée Geoffroy St Hilaire, 33615 Pessac, France

    • Xavier Crosta
    •  & Didier Swingedouw
  9. Sorbonne Universités (Université Pierre et Marie Curie Paris 6)-CNRS-IRD-MNHN, LOCEAN Laboratory, F-75005 Paris, France

    • Casimir de Lavergne
  10. ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia

    • Matthew H. England
    •  & Leela M. Frankcombe
  11. Department of Geography, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 45701, USA

    • Ryan L. Fogt
  12. British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

    • Gareth J. Marshall
  13. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, LSCE/IPSL, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Université Paris-Saclay, France

    • Valérie Masson-Delmotte
    •  & Anaïs J. Orsi
  14. Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Princeton University, 300 Forrestal Rd, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Adele K. Morrison
  15. Department of Geography, University of California Los Angeles, 1255 Bunche Hall, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA

    • Marilyn N. Raphael
  16. National Center for Atmospheric Research, PO Box 3000, Boulder, Colorado 80307-3000, USA

    • David P. Schneider
  17. Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, Croul Hall, Irvine, California 92697-3100, USA

    • Graham R. Simpkins
  18. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, 70 Johnson Hall, Box 351310, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Eric J. Steig
  19. Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics and Statistics, Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy, Via Torino 155, 30170 Venezia Mestre, Italy

    • Barbara Stenni
  20. Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Private Bag 80, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia

    • Tessa R. Vance


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All authors conceived the paper. J.M.J., H.G. and S.T.G. organized the contributions to the manuscript, and contributed to writing and editing the manuscript. Observational data: G.R.S. undertook data analysis and figure preparation (Fig. 1 and Supplementary Fig. 2), which included contributions from M.H.E., E.J.S. and G.J.M.; M.H.E., G.R.S., J.A.R., R.L.F., M.N.R., G.J.M., D.P.S., I.E., P.O.C. and K.R.C. all contributed to discussions of analysis design, and to writing and revising the Antarctic climate monitoring section, and associated methods. Palaeoclimate and historical data: N.J.A. undertook the data compilation, with data contributions from B.S., A.J.O., X.C., P.O.C. and D.J.C. N.J.A. and T.R.V. prepared the figures (Fig. 2 and Supplementary Figs 3 and 4). T.R.V., N.J.A., P.O.C., D.J.C., X.C., V.M.D., A.J.O., E.J.S. and B.S. all contributed to discussions of analysis design, and to writing and revising the section on historical records and natural archives, and associated methods. Climate simulations: D.S. undertook coordination, D.S., C.d.L., N.J.A., A.K.M. and L.M.F. undertook data analysis, and C.d.L. and N.J.A. prepared the figures (Fig. 3 and Supplementary Fig. 5). D.S., N.J.A., M.H.E., L.M.F., C.d.L. and A.K.M. all contributed to discussions of analysis design, and to writing and revising the section on simulated Antarctic climate trends and variability, and associated methods. All authors reviewed the full manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julie M. Jones.

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