Over the last three decades, the South Pole has experienced a record-high statistically significant warming of 0.61 ± 0.34 °C per decade, more than three times the global average. Here, we use an ensemble of climate model experiments to show this recent warming lies within the upper bounds of the simulated range of natural variability. The warming resulted from a strong cyclonic anomaly in the Weddell Sea caused by increasing sea surface temperatures in the western tropical Pacific. This circulation, coupled with a positive polarity of the Southern Annular Mode, advected warm and moist air from the South Atlantic into the Antarctic interior. These results underscore the intimate linkage of interior Antarctic climate to tropical variability. Further, this study shows that atmospheric internal variability can induce extreme regional climate change over the Antarctic interior, which has masked any anthropogenic warming signal there during the twenty-first century.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Climate Dynamics Open Access 29 April 2022
Communications Earth & Environment Open Access 17 February 2022
Scientific Reports Open Access 01 October 2021
Subscribe to Nature+
Get immediate online access to Nature and 55 other Nature journal
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.
The station temperature, wind and radiosonde data are available online at https://legacy.bas.ac.uk/met/READER/. ERA5 data are available online at https://www.ecmwf.int/en/forecasts/datasets/reanalysis-datasets/era5. ERSSTv.5 and OLR data are available online at https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/data/gridded/index.html. The CMIP5 data are available online at http://data.ceda.ac.uk/badc/cmip5. Output from the CESM experiments are available from the authors upon request.
All code used to perform the calculations can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3712453.
Hansen, J., Ruedy, R., Sato, M. & Lo, K. Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys. 48, RG4004 (2010).
Turner, J. et al. Antarctic climate change during the last 50 years. Int. J. Climatol. 25, 279–294 (2005).
Jones, J. M. et al. Assessing recent trends in high-latitude Southern Hemisphere surface climate. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 917–926 (2016).
Vaughan, D. G. et al. Climate change: devil in the detail. Science 293, 1777–1779 (2001).
Vaughan, D. G. et al. Recent rapid regional climate warming on the Antarctic Peninsula. Clim. Change 60, 243–274 (2003).
Steig, E. J. et al. Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year. Nature 457, 459–462 (2009).
Bromwich, D. H. et al. Central West Antarctica among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. Nat. Geosci. 6, 139–145 (2012).
Nicolas, J. P. & Bromwich, D. H. New reconstruction of Antarctic near-surface temperatures: multidecadal trends and reliability of global reanalyses. J. Clim. 27, 8070–8093 (2014).
Turner, J. et al. Absence of twenty-first century warming on Antarctic Peninsula consistent with natural variability. Nature 535, 411–415 (2016).
Oliva, M. et al. Recent regional climate cooling on the Antarctic Peninsula and associated impacts on the cryosphere. Sci. Total Environ. 580, 210–223 (2017).
Clem, K. R., Lintner, B. R., Broccoli, A. J. & Miller, J. R. Role of the South Pacific convergence zone in West Antarctic decadal climate variability. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 6900–6909 (2019).
Screen, J. A. & Simmonds, I. The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification. Nature 464, 1334–1337 (2010).
Thompson, D. W. J. & Solomon, S. Interpretation of recent Southern Hemisphere climate change. Science 296, 895–899 (2002).
Thompson, D. W. J. et al. Signatures of the Antarctic ozone hole in Southern Hemisphere surface climate change. Nat. Geosci. 4, 741–749 (2011).
Chapman, W. L. & Walsh, J. E. A synthesis of Antarctic temperatures. J. Clim. 20, 4096–4117 (2007).
Schneider, D. P. & Steig, E. J. Ice cores record significant 1940s Antarctic warmth related to tropical climate variability. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 12154–12158 (2008).
Ding, Q., Steig, E. J., Battisti, D. S. & Küttel, M. Winter warming in West Antarctica caused by central tropical Pacific warming. Nat. Geosci. 4, 398–403 (2011).
Schneider, D. P., Deser, C. & Okumura, Y. An assessment and interpretation of the observed warming of West Antarctica in the austral spring. Clim. Dynam. 38, 323–347 (2012).
Li, X., Holland, D. M., Gerber, E. P. & Yoo, C. Impacts of the north and tropical Atlantic Ocean on the Antarctic Peninsula and sea ice. Nature 505, 538–542 (2014).
Simpkins, G. R., McGregor, S., Taschetto, A. S., Ciasto, L. M. & England, M. H. Tropical connections to climatic change in the extratropical Southern Hemisphere: the role of Atlantic SST trends. J. Clim. 27, 4923–4936 (2014).
Clem, K. R. & Fogt, R. L. South Pacific circulation changes and their connection to the tropics and regional Antarctic warming in austral spring, 1979–2012: S. Pacific trends and tropical influence. J. Geophys. Res. Atmospheres 120, 2773–2792 (2015).
van den Broeke, M. R. & van Lipzig, N. P. M. Factors controlling the near-surface wind field in Antarctica. Mon. Weather Rev. 131, 733–743 (2003).
Van Den Broeke, M. R. & Van Lipzig, N. P. M. in Antarctic Peninsula Climate Variability: Historical and Paleoenvironmental Perspectives Vol. 79 (eds Domack, E. et al.) 43–58 (American Geophysical Union, 2003).
Marshall, G. J. Half-century seasonal relationships between the Southern Annular mode and Antarctic temperatures. Int. J. Climatol. 27, 373–383 (2007).
Kwok, R. & Comiso, J. C. Spatial patterns of variability in Antarctic surface temperature: connections to the Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode and the Southern Oscillation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 50-1–50-4 (2002).
Gorodetskaya, I. V. et al. The role of atmospheric rivers in anomalous snow accumulation in East Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 6199–6206 (2014).
Nicolas, J. P. & Bromwich, D. H. Climate of west Antarctica and influence of marine air intrusions. J. Clim. 24, 49–67 (2011).
Marshall, G. J. & Thompson, D. W. J. The signatures of large-scale patterns of atmospheric variability in Antarctic surface temperatures. J. Geophys. Res. Atmospheres 121, 3276–3289 (2016).
Nicolas, J. P. et al. January 2016 extensive summer melt in West Antarctica favoured by strong El Niño. Nat. Commun. 8, 15799 (2017).
Marshall, G. J., Thompson, D. W. J. & Broeke, M. R. The signature of Southern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation patterns in Antarctic precipitation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 11580–11589 (2017).
Wille, J. D. et al. West Antarctic surface melt triggered by atmospheric rivers. Nat. Geosci. 12, 911–916 (2019).
Blunden, J. & Arndt, D. S. State of the climate in 2018. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 100, Si-S306 (2019).
Gillett, N. P. & Thompson, D. W. Simulation of recent Southern Hemisphere climate change. Science 302, 273–275 (2003).
Solomon, S. et al. Emergence of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer. Science 353, 269–274 (2016).
Campbell, E. C. et al. Antarctic offshore polynyas linked to Southern Hemisphere climate anomalies. Nature 570, 319–325 (2019).
Turner, J. et al. Unprecedented springtime retreat of Antarctic sea ice in 2016. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 6868–6875 (2017).
Turner, J., Bracegirdle, T. J., Phillips, T., Marshall, G. J. & Hosking, J. S. An initial assessment of Antarctic sea ice extent in the CMIP5 models. J. Clim. 26, 1473–1484 (2013).
Smith, K. L. & Polvani, L. M. Spatial patterns of recent Antarctic surface temperature trends and the importance of natural variability: lessons from multiple reconstructions and the CMIP5 models. Clim. Dynam. 48, 2653–2670 (2017).
Yuan, X. ENSO-related impacts on Antarctic sea ice: a synthesis of phenomenon and mechanisms. Antarct. Sci. 16, 415–425 (2004).
Lachlan-Cope, T. & Connolley, W. Teleconnections between the tropical Pacific and the Amundsen–Bellinghausens Sea: role of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation. J. Geophys. Res. Atmospheres 111, D23101 (2006).
Scott Yiu, Y. Y. & Maycock, A. C. On the seasonality of the El Niño teleconnection to the Amundsen Sea region. J. Clim. 32, 4829–4845 (2019).
Raphael, M. N. A zonal wave 3 index for the Southern Hemisphere. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L23212 (2004).
Marshall, G. J., Di Battista, S., Naik, S. S. & Thamban, M. Analysis of a regional change in the sign of the SAM–temperature relationship in Antarctica. Clim. Dynam. 36, 277–287 (2011).
Trenberth, K. E., Fasullo, J. T., Branstator, G. & Phillips, A. S. Seasonal aspects of the recent pause in surface warming. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 911–916 (2014).
Meehl, G. A., Arblaster, J. M., Bitz, C. M., Chung, C. T. Y. & Teng, H. Antarctic sea-ice expansion between 2000 and 2014 driven by tropical Pacific decadal climate variability. Nat. Geosci. 9, 590–595 (2016).
Marshall, G. J. Trends in the Southern Annular Mode from observations and reanalyses. J. Clim. 16, 4134–4143 (2003).
Turner, J. et al. The SCAR READER project: toward a high-quality database of mean Antarctic meteorological observations. J. Clim. 17, 2890–2898 (2004).
Hersbach, H. et al. Global reanalysis: goodbye ERA-Interim, hello ERA5. ECMWF Newsletter 159, 17–24 (2019).
Huang, B. et al. Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature, Version 5 (ERSSTv5): upgrades, validations, and intercomparisons. J. Clim. 30, 8179–8205 (2017).
Liebmann, B. & Smith, C. A. Description of a complete (interpolated) outgoing longwave radiation dataset. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 77, 1275–1277 (1996).
Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).
Henley, B. J. et al. A tripole index for the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Clim. Dynam. 45, 3077–3090 (2015).
Folland, C. K., Parker, D. E., Colman, A. W. & Washington, R. in Beyond El Niño (Ed. Navarra, A.) 73–102 (Springer, 1999).
Gong, D. & Wang, S. Definition of Antarctic Oscillation index. Geophys. Res. Lett. 26, 459–462 (1999).
Hurrell, J. W. et al. The Community Earth System Model: a framework for collaborative research. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, 1339–1360 (2013).
Wilks, D. Statistical Methods in the Atmospheric Sciences Vol. 100 (Academic Press, 2005).
R.L.F. is grateful for funding from the National Science Foundation under grant no. US NSF PLR-1744998. J.T. and G.J.M. were supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council through the British Antarctic Survey research programme Polar Science for Planet Earth. We thank the Rutgers Office of Advanced Research Computing and G. Collier for assistance with the CESM simulations. We thank A. Orr and A. Moody for valuable discussion during this study. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Sharon Stammerjohn, Xiaojun Yuan and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Observed 1989–2018 annual-mean SAT trends (°C 30-year−1) from 20 Antarctic staffed and automated weather stations (solid line). The mean trend for all 20 stations is 0.26 °C 30-year−1 and is denoted by the dashed line. The Amundsen–Scott warming trend of 1.83 °C 30-year−1 is denoted by an open red circle.
Extended Data Fig. 2 Simulated anthropogenic forcing of South Pole surface air temperature in CMIP5 models.
Running 30-year South Pole annual-mean (a) SAT and (b) normalized SAT trends for the merged historical (1850–2005) and RCP8.5 (2006–2018) ensemble mean (black line) compared to the observed Amundsen–Scott SAT running 30-year trends (red line). The ensemble mean SAT trend for 1989–2018 is 0.98 °C 30-year−1 (54% of the observed 1.83 °C 30-year-1) and the ensemble mean normalized SAT trend is 0.92 standard deviations 30-year-1 (39% of the observed 2.39 standard deviations 30-year-1).
The (a) correlation of annual-mean Amundsen–Scott SAT with ERSSTv5 SST over the period 1957–2018, and (b) the detrended time series of annual-mean Amundsen–Scott SAT and annual-mean SST in the western tropical Pacific region used for the sensitivity experiment (148–168°E, 8°N-12°S). The black contours in (a) show correlations significant at p<0.10. The detrended correlations of annual-mean Amundsen–Scott SAT and west Pacific SST and the statistical significance for the 1957–2018 and 1979–2018 periods are given at the bottom.
The 1989–2018 annual-mean trends in (a) tropical SST (°C decade-1), (b) outgoing longwave radiation (W m-2 decade-1), and (c) ERA5 precipitation (mm day-1 decade−1). The black box in (a–c) denotes the region where the positive SST anomaly was placed for the sensitivity experiment. Black contours denote trends that are significant at p<0.10.
The annual and seasonal-mean Z500 (m) and 500 hPa wind (ms-1) anomalies (perturbed run 30-yr climatology minus control run 30-yr climatology) for the west Pacific SST heating anomaly experiment (Methods). Black contours denote Z500 anomalies significant at p<0.10, and only wind anomalies significant at p<0.10 are plotted.
Extended Data Figure 6 Simulated Antarctic surface air temperature response to western tropical Pacific warming.
As in Extended Data Fig. 5, except for SAT (°C).
Extended Data Figure 7 The influence of negative IPO and positive SAM coupling on Antarctic climate in CMIP5 models.
The (a) CMIP5 pre-industrial ensemble mean annual-mean 30-year SLP trend (hPa 30-year−1) for the lowest 30-year negative IPO trend period in each ensemble member. Only CMIP5 models that simulate a realistic negative IPO SST pattern (a positive SST trend in the western tropical Pacific and a negative SST trend in the southeastern tropical Pacific) were included (Methods). (b-c) The difference in annual-mean 30-year (b) SLP (hPa 30-year-1) and (c) SAT (°C 30-year−1) trend for CMIP5 pre-industrial models that had a negative IPO trend minus those that had a positive IPO trend during their respective 30-year period with a positive SAM trend equal to the observed 1989–2018 positive SAM trend (2.14 30-year−1).
About this article
Cite this article
Clem, K.R., Fogt, R.L., Turner, J. et al. Record warming at the South Pole during the past three decades. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 762–770 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0815-z
This article is cited by
Nature Climate Change (2023)
Communications Earth & Environment (2022)
Nature Climate Change (2022)
Environmental drivers of phytoplankton crops and taxonomic composition in northeastern Antarctic Peninsula adjacent sea area
Acta Oceanologica Sinica (2022)
Characteristics of sea ice kinematics from the marginal ice zone to the packed ice zone observed by buoys deployed during the 9th Chinese Arctic Expedition
Acta Oceanologica Sinica (2022)