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.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Russell, A. & McGregor, G. R. Southern hemisphere atmospheric circulation: Impacts on Antarctic climate and reconstructions from Antarctic ice core data. Climatic Change 99, 155–192 (2010).
Bentley, M. J. et al. Mechanisms of Holocene palaeoenvironmental change in the Antarctic Peninsula region. Holocene 19, 51–69 (2009).
Shevenell, A. E., Ingalls, A. E., Domack, E. W. & Kelly, C. Holocene Southern Ocean surface temperature variability west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Nature 470, 250–254 (2011).
Taylor, F. & Sjunneskog, C. Postglacial marine diatom record of the Palmer Deep, Antarctic Peninsula (ODP Leg 178, Site 1089), 2, diatom assemblages. Paleoceanography 17, 8001 (2002).
Makou, M. C., Eglinton, T. I., Oppo, D. W. & Hughen, K. A. Postglacial changes in El Niño and La Niña behavior. Geology 38, 43–46 (2010).
Yeh, S-W. et al. El Niño in a changing climate. Nature 461, 511–514 (2009).
Meredith, M. P. & King, J. C. Rapid climate change in the ocean west of the Antarctic Peninsula during the second half of the 20th century. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L19604 (2005).
Cook, A. J., Fox, A. J., Vaughan, D. G. & Ferrigno, J. G. Retreating glacier fronts on the Antarctic Penisula over the past half-century. Science 308, 541–544 (2005).
Barker, P. F. et al. Proceedings of ODP, Initial Reports, 178 (CD-ROM) (Ocean Drilling Program, Texas A&M University, College Station, 1999).
Heroy, D. C. & Anderson, J. B. Radiocarbon constraints on Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet retreat following the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 3286–3297 (2007).
Domack, E. et al. Chronology of the Palmer Deep site, Antarctic Peninsula: A Holocene paleoenvironmental reference for the circum-Antarctic. Holocene 11, 1–9 (2001).
Kilfeather, A. A. et al. Ice-stream retreat and ice-shelf history in Marguerite Trough, Antarctic Penisula: Sedimentological and foraminiferal signatures. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 123, 997–1015 (2011).
Milliken, K. T., Anderson, J. B., Wellner, J. S., Bohaty, S. M. & Manley, P. L. High-resolution Holocene climate record from Maxwell Bay, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 121, 1711–1725 (2009).
Debret, M. et al. Evidence from wavelet analysis for a mid-Holocene transition in global climate forcing. Quat. Sci. Rev. 28, 2675–2688 (2009).
Lamy, F. et al. Holocene changes in the position and intensity of the southern westerly wind belt. Nature Geosci. 3, 695–699 (2010).
Roberts, S. J. et al. The Holocene history of George VI Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula from clast-provenance analysis of epishelf sediments. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 259, 258–283 (2008).
Moy, C. M., Seltzer, G. O. & Rodbell, D. T. Variability of El Niño/Southern Oscillation activity at millennial timescales during the Holocene epoch. Nature 420, 162–165 (2002).
Domack, E. W. in Proc. Ocean Drilling Program, Leg 178, Scientific Results (eds Barker, P. F., Camerlenghi, A., Acton, G. D. & Ramsay, A. T. S.) (Ocean Drilling Program, Texas A&M University, 2002).
Chazen, C. R., Altabet, M. A. & Herbert, T. D. Abrupt mid-Holocene onset of centennial-scale climate variability on the Peru-Chile Margin. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L18704 (2009).
Conroy, J. L., Overpeck, J. T., Cole, J. E., Shanahan, T. M. & Steinitz-Kannan, M. Holocene changes in eastern tropical Pacific climate inferred from a Galápagos lake sediment record. Quat. Sci. Rev. 27, 1166–1180 (2008).
Willmott, V. et al. Holocene changes in Proboscia diatom productivity in shelf waters of the north-western Antarctic Peninsula. Ant. Sci. 22, 3–10 (2010).
Leventer, A. et al. Productivity cycles of 200–300 years in the Antarctic Peninsula region: Understanding linkages among the sun, atmosphere, oceans, sea ice, and biota. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 108, 1626–1644 (1996).
Khider, D., Stott, L. D., Emile-Geay, J., Thunell, R. & Hammond, D. E. Assessing El Niño Southern Oscillation variability during the last millennium. Paleoceanography 26, PA3222 (2011).
Berger, A. & Loutre, M. F. Insolation values for the climate of the last 10 million years. Quat. Sci. Rev. 10, 297–317 (1991).
Ding, Q., Steig, E. J., Battisti, D. J. & Küttel, M. Winter warming in West Antarctica caused by central tropical Pacific warming. Nature Geosci. 4, 398–403 (2011).
Renwick, J. A. Persistent positive anomalies in the Southern Hemisphere circulation. Mon. Weath. Rev. 133, 977–988 (2005).
Pritchard, H. D. et al. Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves. Nature 484, 502–505 (2012).
Meredith, M. P. et al. Changes in freshwater composition of the upper ocean west of the Antarctic Peninsula during the first decade of the 21st century. Prog. Oceanogr. 87, 127–143 (2010).
Maddison, E. J., Pike, J., Leventer, A. & Domack, E. W. Deglacial seasonal and sub-seasonal diatom record from Palmer Deep, Antarctica. J. Quat. Sci. 20, 435–446 (2005).
Swann, G. E. A., Pike, J., Snelling, A. & Leng, M. J. Seasonally resolved diatom δ18O records from the west Antarctic Peninsula over the last deglaciation. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett.http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2012.12.016 (in the press).
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.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Pike, J., Swann, G., Leng, M. et al. Glacial discharge along the west Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene. Nature Geosci 6, 199–202 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1703
Nature Communications (2022)
Nature Geoscience (2021)
Nature Communications (2019)
Enhanced glacial discharge from the eastern Antarctic Peninsula since the 1700s associated with a positive Southern Annular Mode
Scientific Reports (2019)
Nature Communications (2017)