Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

The spatial extent and dynamics of the Antarctic Cold Reversal


Antarctic ice cores show that a millennial-scale cooling event, the Antarctic Cold Reversal (14,700 to 13,000 years ago), interrupted the last deglaciation1,2,3. The Antarctic Cold Reversal coincides with the Bølling–Allerød warm stage in the North Atlantic, providing an example of the inter-hemispheric coupling of abrupt climate change generally referred to as the bipolar seesaw4,5,6,7,8,9. However, the ocean–atmosphere dynamics governing this coupling are debated10,11,12,13,14,15. Here we examine the extent and expression of the Antarctic Cold Reversal in the Southern Hemisphere using a synthesis of 84 palaeoclimate records. We find that the cooling is strongest in the South Atlantic and all regions south of 40° S. At the same time, the terrestrial tropics and subtropics show abrupt hydrologic variations that are significantly correlated with North Atlantic climate changes. Our transient global climate model simulations indicate that the observed extent of Antarctic Cold Reversal cooling can be explained by enhanced northward ocean heat transport from the South to North Atlantic10, amplified by the expansion and thickening of sea ice in the Southern Ocean. The hydrologic variations at lower latitudes result from an opposing enhancement of southward heat transport in the atmosphere mediated by the Hadley circulation. Our findings reconcile previous arguments about the relative dominance of ocean5,10,11 and atmospheric14,15 heat transports in inter-hemispheric coupling, demonstrating that the spatial pattern of past millennial-scale climate change reflects the superposition of both.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Proxy-based spatial extent of the Antarctic Cold Reversal (ACR) in the Southern Hemisphere.
Figure 2: Comparing proxy and modelled climate parameters across the ACR interval.
Figure 3: Comparison of proxy- and model-based temperature and precipitation anomalies during the ACR.
Figure 4: Opposing inter-hemispheric ocean and atmosphere heat transport during the ACR.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Jouzel, J. et al. in Abrupt Climatic Change: Evidence and Implications (eds Berger, W. H. & Labeyrie, L. D.) 235–245 (D Reidel Publishing Company, 1987).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. Blunier, T. et al. Timing of the Antarctic Cold Reversal and the atmospheric CO2 increase with respect to the Younger Dryas event. Geophys. Res. Lett. 24, 2683–2686 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Pedro, J. B. et al. The last deglaciation: Timing the bipolar seesaw. Clim. Past 7, 671–683 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Lamy, F. et al. Modulation of the bipolar seesaw in the Southeast Pacific during Termination 1. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 259, 400–413 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Barker, S. et al. Interhemispheric Atlantic seesaw response during the last deglaciation. Nature 457, 1097–1102 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Putnam, A. E. et al. Glacier advance in southern middle-latitudes during the Antarctic Cold Reversal. Nature Geosci. 3, 700–704 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Newnham, R. M. et al. Does the bipolar seesaw extend to the terrestrial southern mid-latitudes? Quat. Sci. Rev. 36, 214–222 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Liu, Z. et al. Transient simulation of last deglaciation with a new mechanism for Bølling–Allerød warming. Science 325, 310–314 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. He, F. et al. Northern Hemisphere forcing of Southern Hemisphere climate during the last deglaciation. Nature 494, 81–85 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Crowley, T. J. North Atlantic deep water cools the Southern Hemisphere. Paleoceanography 7, 489–497 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Stocker, T. F. & Johnsen, S. J. A minimum thermodynamic model for the bipolar seesaw. Paleoceanography 18, PA000920 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Chiang, J. C. H. & Bitz, C. M. Influence of high latitude ice cover on the marine intertropical convergence zone. Clim. Dynam. 25, 477–496 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Zhang, R. & Delworth, T. L. Simulated tropical response to a substantial weakening of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. J. Clim. 18, 1853–1860 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Wunsch, C. Abrupt climate change: An alternative view. Quat. Res. 65, 191–203 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Seager, R. & Battisti, D. S. in The Global Circulation of the Atmosphere: Phenomena, Theory, Challenges (eds Schneider, T. & Sobel, A. S.) 331–371 (Princeton Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Calvo, E., Pelejero, C., De Deckker, P. & Logan, G. A. Antarctic deglacial pattern in a 30 kyr record of sea surface temperature offshore South Australia. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L13707 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Moreno, P. I. et al. Renewed glacial activity during the Antarctic Cold Reversal and persistence of cold conditions until 11.5 ka in SW Patagonia. Geology 37, 375–378 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Vandergoes, M. J. et al. Cooling and changing seasonality in the Southern Alps, New Zealand during the Antarctic Cold Reversal. Quat. Sci. Rev. 27, 589–601 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Denniston, R. F. et al. North Atlantic forcing of millennial-scale Indo-Australian monsoon dynamics during the Last Glacial period. Quat. Sci. Rev. 72, 159–168 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Mosblech, N. A. S. et al. North Atlantic forcing of Amazonian precipitation during the last ice age. Nature Geosci. 5, 817–820 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Schefuß, E., Kuhlmann, H., Mollenhauer, G., Prange, M. & Pätzold, J. Forcing of wet phases in southeast Africa over the past 17,000 years. Nature 480, 509–512 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Rasmussen, S. O. et al. A stratigraphic framework for abrupt climatic changes during the last glacial period based on three synchronized Greenland ice-core records: Refining and extending the INTIMATE event stratigraphy. Quat. Sci. Rev. 106, 14–28 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. He, F. Simulating Transient Climate Evolution of the Last Deglaciation with CCSM3 PhD thesis, 171, Univ. Wisconsin-Madison (2011).

  24. McManus, J. F. et al. Collapse and rapid resumption of Atlantic meridional circulation linked to deglacial climate changes. Nature 428, 834–837 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Buizert, C. et al. Greenland temperature response to climate forcing during the last deglaciation. Science 345, 1177–1180 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Golledge, N. R. et al. Antarctic contribution to meltwater pulse 1A from reduced Southern Ocean overturning. Nature Commun. 5, 5107 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Bentley, M. J. et al. A community-based geological reconstruction of Antarctic Ice Sheet deglaciation since the last glacial maximum. Quat. Sci. Rev. 100, 1–9 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Denton, G. H. et al. The role of seasonality in abrupt climate change. Quat. Sci. Rev. 24, 1159–1182 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Otto-Bliesner, B. L. et al. Coherent changes of southeastern equatorial and northern African rainfall during the last deglaciation. Science 346, 1223–1227 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hsu, Y.-H. et al. Land–ocean asymmetry of tropical precipitation changes in the Mid-Holocene. J. Clim. 23, 4133–4151 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Ólafsdóttir, K. B. & Mudelsee, M. More accurate, calibrated bootstrap confidence intervals for estimating the correlation between two time series. Math. Geosci. 46, 411–427 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work is a contribution to INQUA PALCOMM project 1302 SHAPE: Southern Hemisphere Assessment of PalaeoEnvironments. J.B.P. acknowledges support from the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO Contribution No. 2408) and from a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship. H.C.B. was funded by NIWA core funding (COPR). G.C. and M.J.V. were supported by the New Zealand Government through the GNS Global Change through Time Program. C.M.B. received support from NSF PLR 1341497. F.H. is supported by the US NSF and the US NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. This research used resources of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, located in the National Center for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is supported by the Office of Science of the Department of Energy under contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. B.M.C. was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Starting Grant ‘HYRAX’, grant agreement no. 258657. We thank D. Battisti, S. Schoenemann, D. Frierson, A. Lorrey, T. Barrows, A. Mackintosh and M. Mudelsee for helpful discussions. We also thank the many researchers who provided data sets for this work.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Study design by J.B.P., M.J.V. and H.C.B. Proxy data contribution and compilation by J.B.P., H.C.B., C.E.K., M.J.V., G.C. and B.M.C. Model data provided by F.H. Data-model comparison and figures by J.B.P. with assistance from all authors. Manuscript written by J.B.P. and H.C.B., with contributions from all authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joel B. Pedro.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 1964 kb)

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (XLSX 50 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pedro, J., Bostock, H., Bitz, C. et al. The spatial extent and dynamics of the Antarctic Cold Reversal. Nature Geosci 9, 51–55 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing