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Glacial discharge along the west Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene


The causes for rising temperatures along the Antarctic Peninsula during the late Holocene have been debated, particularly in light of instrumental records of warming over the past decades1. Suggested mechanisms range from upwelling of warm deep waters onto the continental shelf in response to variations in the westerly winds2, to an influence of El Niño–Southern Oscillation on sea surface temperatures3. Here, we present a record of Holocene glacial ice discharge, derived from the oxygen isotope composition of marine diatoms from Palmer Deep along the west Antarctic Peninsula continental margin. We assess atmospheric versus oceanic influences on glacial discharge at this location, using analyses of diatom geochemistry to reconstruct atmospherically forced glacial ice discharge and diatom assemblage4 ecology to investigate the oceanic environment. We show that two processes of atmospheric forcing—an increasing occurrence of La Niña events5 and rising levels of summer insolation—had a stronger influence during the late Holocene than oceanic processes driven by southern westerly winds and upwelling of upper Circumpolar Deepwater. Given that the evolution of El Niño–Southern Oscillation under global warming is uncertain6, its future impacts on the climatically sensitive system of the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet remain to be established.

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Figure 1: Proxy records illustrating potential WAP ocean and climate forcing mechanisms.
Figure 2: Morlet wavelet analysis of ODP Site 1098 δ18Odiatom record.


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We thank H. J. Sloane for assistance with the isotope analyses, I. M. Thomas for assistance with wavelet analysis, staff at the IODP Gulf Coast Core Repository for assistance with sampling ODP Site 1098 and S. Barker, C. Sjunneskog and M. Meredith for discussions. This research was supported by Natural Environment Research Council grants NE/G004811/1 awarded to J.P. and NE/G004137/1 awarded to M.J.L. and G.E.A.S.

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J.P., M.J.L. and G.E.A.S. conceived the project. A.M.S. and G.E.A.S. performed the δ18Odiatom analyses. J.P. performed the wavelet analysis and wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to interpretations and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Pike.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Pike, J., Swann, G., Leng, M. et al. Glacial discharge along the west Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene. Nature Geosci 6, 199–202 (2013).

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