Central West Antarctica among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 23 December 2013

This article has been updated

Abstract

There is clear evidence that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is contributing to sea-level rise. In contrast, West Antarctic temperature changes in recent decades remain uncertain. West Antarctica has probably warmed since the 1950s, but there is disagreement regarding the magnitude, seasonality and spatial extent of this warming. This is primarily because long-term near-surface temperature observations are restricted to Byrd Station in central West Antarctica, a data set with substantial gaps. Here, we present a complete temperature record for Byrd Station, in which observations have been corrected, and gaps have been filled using global reanalysis data and spatial interpolation. The record reveals a linear increase in annual temperature between 1958 and 2010 by 2.4±1.2 °C, establishing central West Antarctica as one of the fastest-warming regions globally. We confirm previous reports of West Antarctic warming, in annual average and in austral spring and winter, but find substantially larger temperature increases. In contrast to previous studies, we report statistically significant warming during austral summer, particularly in December–January, the peak of the melting season. A continued rise in summer temperatures could lead to more frequent and extensive episodes of surface melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. These results argue for a robust long-term meteorological observation network in the region.

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Figure 1: Map of Antarctica and annual spatial footprint of the Byrd temperature record.
Figure 2: Temperature time series from the reconstructed Byrd record.
Figure 3: Linear temperature trends at Byrd.
Figure 4: Comparison of the temperature trends at Byrd from several reconstructions.
Figure 5: Relationships between Byrd temperature and the atmospheric circulation during the three warming seasons.

Change history

  • 23 December 2013

    In the version of this Article originally published, some information in Fig. 3a,b and in the Supplementary Information was incorrect. A full explanation of the calculation errors and their corrections, including an updated Fig. 3a,b, can be found in the corresponding Corrigendum.

  • 23 December 2013

    Nature Geoscience 6, 139–145 (2013); published online 23 December 2012; corrected after print 23 December 2013. In our Article presenting a reconstruction of the near-surface temperature record at Byrd Station, a calculation error led to an overestimation of the magnitude and statistical significance of the temperature trends in December–January shown in Fig.

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Acknowledgements

This work was financially supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through grant ATM-0751291. The Antarctic Meteorological Research Center, provider of the AWS observations, is supported by the NSF Office of Polar Programs through grant ANT-0838834. We thank H. Brecher, R. Fogt, C. Genthon, T. Wilson and S-H. Wang for their insight/assistance at various stages of this work. We are also grateful to S. Colwell (British Antarctic Survey) for maintaining the READER database. This is contribution 1428 of the Byrd Polar Research Center.

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D.H.B., J.P.N. and A.J.M. designed the research. D.H.B. and J.P.N. performed the temperature reconstruction and wrote the paper. D.H.B., J.P.N. and A.B.W. analysed the results. M.A.L., L.M.K. and G.A.W. tested the AWS hardware and provided corrected AWS data. All authors commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to David H. Bromwich or Julien P. Nicolas.

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Bromwich, D., Nicolas, J., Monaghan, A. et al. Central West Antarctica among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. Nature Geosci 6, 139–145 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1671

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