Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. 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.

Record warming at the South Pole during the past three decades

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 18 May 2021

This article has been updated

Abstract

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.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Temperature and pressure changes at the South Pole during the modern instrumental record.
Fig. 2: Circulation changes at the South Pole and the southern polar region.
Fig. 3: Recent South Pole climatic changes relative to CMIP5 ensemble.
Fig. 4: Connection to tropical Pacific variability.
Fig. 5: Coupling of IPO with positive SAM.

Data availability

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.

Code availability

All code used to perform the calculations can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3712453.

Change history

References

  1. Hansen, J., Ruedy, R., Sato, M. & Lo, K. Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys. 48, RG4004 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Turner, J. et al. Antarctic climate change during the last 50 years. Int. J. Climatol. 25, 279–294 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Jones, J. M. et al. Assessing recent trends in high-latitude Southern Hemisphere surface climate. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 917–926 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Vaughan, D. G. et al. Climate change: devil in the detail. Science 293, 1777–1779 (2001).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Vaughan, D. G. et al. Recent rapid regional climate warming on the Antarctic Peninsula. Clim. Change 60, 243–274 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Steig, E. J. et al. Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year. Nature 457, 459–462 (2009).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Bromwich, D. H. et al. Central West Antarctica among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. Nat. Geosci. 6, 139–145 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  8. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Turner, J. et al. Absence of twenty-first century warming on Antarctic Peninsula consistent with natural variability. Nature 535, 411–415 (2016).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. 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).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Screen, J. A. & Simmonds, I. The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification. Nature 464, 1334–1337 (2010).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Thompson, D. W. J. & Solomon, S. Interpretation of recent Southern Hemisphere climate change. Science 296, 895–899 (2002).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Thompson, D. W. J. et al. Signatures of the Antarctic ozone hole in Southern Hemisphere surface climate change. Nat. Geosci. 4, 741–749 (2011).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Chapman, W. L. & Walsh, J. E. A synthesis of Antarctic temperatures. J. Clim. 20, 4096–4117 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 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).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. 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).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 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).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  21. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  22. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  23. 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).

  24. Marshall, G. J. Half-century seasonal relationships between the Southern Annular mode and Antarctic temperatures. Int. J. Climatol. 27, 373–383 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gorodetskaya, I. V. et al. The role of atmospheric rivers in anomalous snow accumulation in East Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 6199–6206 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Nicolas, J. P. & Bromwich, D. H. Climate of west Antarctica and influence of marine air intrusions. J. Clim. 24, 49–67 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  28. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Nicolas, J. P. et al. January 2016 extensive summer melt in West Antarctica favoured by strong El Niño. Nat. Commun. 8, 15799 (2017).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  31. Wille, J. D. et al. West Antarctic surface melt triggered by atmospheric rivers. Nat. Geosci. 12, 911–916 (2019).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  32. Blunden, J. & Arndt, D. S. State of the climate in 2018. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 100, Si-S306 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  33. Gillett, N. P. & Thompson, D. W. Simulation of recent Southern Hemisphere climate change. Science 302, 273–275 (2003).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Solomon, S. et al. Emergence of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer. Science 353, 269–274 (2016).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Campbell, E. C. et al. Antarctic offshore polynyas linked to Southern Hemisphere climate anomalies. Nature 570, 319–325 (2019).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Turner, J. et al. Unprecedented springtime retreat of Antarctic sea ice in 2016. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 6868–6875 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  37. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  38. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  39. Yuan, X. ENSO-related impacts on Antarctic sea ice: a synthesis of phenomenon and mechanisms. Antarct. Sci. 16, 415–425 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  40. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  41. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  42. Raphael, M. N. A zonal wave 3 index for the Southern Hemisphere. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L23212 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  43. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  44. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  45. 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).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  46. Marshall, G. J. Trends in the Southern Annular Mode from observations and reanalyses. J. Clim. 16, 4134–4143 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  47. Turner, J. et al. The SCAR READER project: toward a high-quality database of mean Antarctic meteorological observations. J. Clim. 17, 2890–2898 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  48. Hersbach, H. et al. Global reanalysis: goodbye ERA-Interim, hello ERA5. ECMWF Newsletter 159, 17–24 (2019).

  49. Huang, B. et al. Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature, Version 5 (ERSSTv5): upgrades, validations, and intercomparisons. J. Clim. 30, 8179–8205 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  50. Liebmann, B. & Smith, C. A. Description of a complete (interpolated) outgoing longwave radiation dataset. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 77, 1275–1277 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  51. 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).

    Google Scholar 

  52. Henley, B. J. et al. A tripole index for the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Clim. Dynam. 45, 3077–3090 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  53. Folland, C. K., Parker, D. E., Colman, A. W. & Washington, R. in Beyond El Niño (Ed. Navarra, A.) 73–102 (Springer, 1999).

  54. Gong, D. & Wang, S. Definition of Antarctic Oscillation index. Geophys. Res. Lett. 26, 459–462 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  55. Hurrell, J. W. et al. The Community Earth System Model: a framework for collaborative research. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, 1339–1360 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  56. Wilks, D. Statistical Methods in the Atmospheric Sciences Vol. 100 (Academic Press, 2005).

Download references

Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

K.R.C. and R.L.F. conceived the study. K.R.C. led the writing of the manuscript, carried out the South Pole SAT and ERA5 circulation analysis, analysed the CMIP5 data and performed the CESM experiments. R.L.F. investigated changes in upper-air temperature and pressure from South Pole radiosonde observations and generated Fig. 1. J.T. investigated changes in South Pole winds using South Pole wind observations and generated Fig. 2c–e. G.J.M. investigated IPO/SAM influence on South Pole temperatures and generated Fig. 5. K.R.C. generated all other figures. All authors analysed the results and assisted in writing and editing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kyle R. Clem.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

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.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Antarctic SAT trends during 1989–2018.

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).

Extended Data Fig. 3 South Pole relationship with tropical sea surface temperatures.

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.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Tropical Pacific climate trends during 1989–2018.

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.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Simulated Antarctic circulation response to western tropical Pacific warming.

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).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

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

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0815-z

Further reading

Search

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