During the last glacial period, the North Atlantic region experienced a series of Dansgaard–Oeschger cycles in which climate abruptly alternated between warm and cold periods. Corresponding variations in Antarctic surface temperature were out of phase with their Northern Hemisphere counterparts. The temperature relationship between the hemispheres is commonly attributed to an interhemispheric redistribution of heat by the ocean overturning circulation. Changes in ocean heat transport should be accompanied by changes in atmospheric circulation to satisfy global energy budget constraints. Although changes in tropical atmospheric circulation linked to abrupt events in the Northern Hemisphere are well documented, evidence for predicted changes in the Southern Hemisphere’s atmospheric circulation during Dansgaard–Oeschger cycles is lacking. Here we use a high-resolution deuterium-excess record from West Antarctica to show that the latitude of the mean moisture source for Antarctic precipitation changed in phase with abrupt shifts in Northern Hemisphere climate, and significantly before Antarctic temperature change. This provides direct evidence that Southern Hemisphere mid-latitude storm tracks shifted within decades of abrupt changes in the North Atlantic, in parallel with meridional migrations of the intertropical convergence zone. We conclude that both oceanic and atmospheric processes, operating on different timescales, link the hemispheres during abrupt climate change.

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We thank A. J. Schauer and P. D. Neff for assistance with the measurements, E. J. Brook, V. Gkinis and H. C. Steen-Larsen for insightful discussions, and B. Stenni for sharing data. We acknowledge grants from the US National Science Foundation Division of Polar Programs (0537930, 1043092 to E.J.S.; 0537593, 1043167 to J.W.C.W.; 0538538, 1043500 to T.S.; 0944197 to T.J.F.; 1043518 to E. J. Brook; and 1341497 to C.M.B.). We acknowledge grants from NOAA Climate and Global Change postdoctoral fellowship program, administered by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (to C.B.); support from the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO Contribution no. 2462) and from a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship (to J.B.P.); NASA National Earth and Space Sciences Fellowship (to T.J.F.); and ARCS Foundation scholarship (to B.R.M.).

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  1. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1310, USA

    • Bradley R. Markle
    • , Eric J. Steig
    • , Spruce W. Schoenemann
    •  & T. J. Fudge
  2. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1640, USA

    • Eric J. Steig
    •  & Cecilia M. Bitz
  3. College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • Christo Buizert
  4. Centre for Ice and Climate, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen DKK-2100, Denmark

    • Joel B. Pedro
  5. Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93016, USA

    • Qinghua Ding
  6. Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • Tyler R. Jones
    •  & James W. C. White
  7. Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

    • Todd Sowers


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B.R.M. and E.J.S. wrote the paper and conducted data analysis with assistance from C.B. and J.B.P.  Q.D. and C.M.B. provided climate model output. B.R.M., E.J.S. and S.W.S. produced the water-isotope data with T.R.J. and J.W.C.W.  T.S. provided the CH4 data. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Bradley R. Markle.

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