Benthic foraminiferal oxygen isotopic and ice core records have been interpreted to indicate that Antarctic ice volume variations began to be paced by 100,000-year-long eccentricity cycles about 800,000 years ago. However, this interpretation has never been confirmed from sedimentological reconstructions of ice margin advance and retreat cycles around Antarctica. Here we present sedimentological and palaeomagnetic records from a 6.21-metre-long sediment core spanning the last 1.1 million years that track the proximity of the ice margin in the Ross Embayment. The advance and retreat of the Ross Ice Shelf—and by extension the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—are found to have been primarily paced by 41,000-year-long obliquity cycles until at least 400,000 years ago. We suggest that high-latitude insolationcontrolled Southern Ocean heat uptake and continued to be the main pacemaker of Antarctic glaciations well into the late Pleistocene. Insolation was predicted to control Antarctic ice volume; however, the frequency of glacial cycles inferred from distal records suggested that the 100,000-year-long cycle dominated, implying that other forcing mechanisms were at play. Our study reconciles the historical mismatch between the inferred glacial cycles and the insolation record.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
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 $9.92 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.
Mudelsee, M. & Schulz, M. The mid-Pleistocene climate transition: onset of 100 ka cycle lags ice volume build-up by 280 ka. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 151, 117–123 (1997).
Lisiecki, L. E. & Raymo, M. E. A Pliocene–Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic δ18 O records. Paleoceanography 20, PA1003 (2005).
Clark, P. U. et al. The middle Pleistocene transition: characteristics, mechanisms, and implications for long-term changes in atmospheric pCO2. Quat. Sci. Rev. 25, 3150–3184 (2006).
Elderfield, H. et al. Evolution of ocean temperature and ice volume through the mid-Pleistocene climate transition. Science 337, 704–709 (2012).
Willeit, M., Ganopolski, A., Calov, R. & Brovkin, V. Mid-Pleistocene transition in glacial cycles explained by declining CO2 and regolith removal. Sci. Adv. 5, eaav7337 (2019).
Scherer, R. P. et al. Pleistocene collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Science 281, 82–85 (1998).
Naish, T. et al. Obliquity-paced Pliocene West Antarctic ice sheet oscillations. Nature 458, 322–328 (2009).
Wilson, D. J. et al. Ice loss from the East Antarctic ice sheet during late Pleistocene interglacials. Nature 561, 383–386 (2018).
Cowan, E. A. Identification of the glacial signal from the Antarctic Peninsula since 3.0 Ma at Site 1101 in a continental rise sediment drift. Proc. Ocean Drill. Program Sci. Results 178, 1–22 (2002).
Cowan, E. A., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Hassler, L. E. & Ake, M. T. Coarse-grained terrigenous sediment deposition on continental rise drifts: a record of Plio-Pleistocene glaciation on the Antarctic Peninsula. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 265, 275–291 (2008).
Halberstadt, A. R. W., Simkins, L. M., Greenwood, S. L. & Anderson, J. B. Past ice-sheet behaviour: retreat scenarios and changing controls in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Cryosphere 10, 1003–1020 (2016).
Lurcock, P. C. & Wilson, G. S. PuffinPlot: A versatile, user-friendly program for paleomagnetic analysis. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 13, Q06Z45 (2012).
Kirschvink, J. L. The least-squares line and plane and the analysis of palaeomagnetic data. Geophys. J. R. Astron. Soc. 62, 699–718 (1980).
Krissek, L. A. Late Cenozoic ice-rafting records from Leg 145 sites in the North Pacific: late Miocene onset, late Pliocene intensification, and Pliocene–Pleistocene events. Proc. Ocean Drill. Program Sci. Results 145, 179–194 (1995).
Patterson, M. O. et al. Orbital forcing of the East Antarctic ice sheet during the Pliocene and Early Pleistocene. Nat. Geosci. 7, 841–847 (2014).
Meyers, S. R. Astrochron: An R Package for Astrochronology (2014).
Paillard, D., Labeyrie, L. & Yiou, P. Macintosh program performs time-series analysis. Eos Trans. AGU 77, 379 (1996).
Björg Ólafsdóttir, K., Schulz, M. & Mudelsee, M. REDFIT-X: cross-spectral analysis of unevenly spaced paleoclimate time series. Comput. Geosci. 91, 11–18 (2016).
Petrushak, S. Descriptions of Sediment Recovered by the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer, United States Antarctic Program Cruise 1A, 2003 (Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility, Florida State University, 2003).
Channell, J. E. T., Singer, B. S. & Jicha, B. R. Timing of Quaternary geomagnetic reversals and excursions in volcanic and sedimentary archives. Quat. Sci. Rev. 228, 106114 (2020).
King, J. W., Banerjee, S. K. & Marvin, J. A new rock-magnetic approach to selecting sediments for geomagnetic paleointensity studies: application to paleointensity for the last 4,000 years. J. Geophys. Res. 88, 5911–5921 (1983).
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. GSA Bull. 108, 1626–1644 (1996).
Domack, E. et al. Chronology of the Palmer Deep site, Antarctic Peninsula: a Holocene palaeoenvironmental reference for the circum-Antarctic. Holocene 11, 1–9 (2001).
Smith, J. A. et al. The marine geological imprint of Antarctic ice shelves. Nat. Commun. 10, 5635 (2019).
Gladstone, R. M., Bigg, G. R. & Nicholls, K. W. Iceberg trajectory modeling and meltwater injection in the Southern Ocean. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 106, 19903–19915 (2001).
Silva, T. A. M., Bigg, G. R. & Nicholls, K. W. Contribution of giant icebergs to the Southern Ocean freshwater flux. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 111, C03004 (2006).
Thomson, D. J. Spectrum estimation and harmonic analysis. Proc. IEEE 70, 1055–1096 (1982).
Laskar, J. et al. A long-term numerical solution for the insolation quantities of the Earth. Astron. Astrophys. 428, 261–285 (2004).
Scherer, R. P. et al. Antarctic records of precession-paced insolation-driven warming during early Pleistocene Marine Isotope Stage 31. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L03505 (2008).
Grant, G. R. et al. The amplitude and origin of sea-level variability during the Pliocene epoch. Nature 574, 237–241 (2019).
Parrenin, F. et al. The EDC3 chronology for the EPICA Dome C ice core. Clim. Discuss 3, 575–606 (2007).
Jouzel, J. et al. Orbital and millennial Antarctic climate variability over the past 800,000 years. Science 317, 793–796 (2007).
Uemura, R. et al. Asynchrony between Antarctic temperature and CO2 associated with obliquity over the past 720,000 years. Nat. Commun. 9, 961 (2018).
Stewart, C. L., Christoffersen, P., Nicholls, K. W., Williams, M. J. M. & Dowdeswell, J. A. Basal melting of Ross Ice Shelf from solar heat absorption in an ice-front polynya. Nat. Geosci. 12, 435–440 (2019).
Malyarenko, A., Robinson, N. J., Williams, M. J. M. & Langhorne, P. J. A wedge mechanism for summer surface water inflow into the Ross Ice Shelf Cavity. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 124, 1196–1214 (2019).
Goldberg, D., Holland, D. M. & Schoof, C. Grounding line movement and ice shelf buttressing in marine ice sheets. J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surf. 114, F04026 (2009).
Huybers, P. & Denton, G. Antarctic temperature at orbital timescales controlled by local summer duration. Nat. Geosci. 1, 787–792 (2008).
Beltran, C. et al. Southern Ocean temperature records and ice-sheet models demonstrate rapid Antarctic ice sheet retreat under low atmospheric CO2 during Marine Isotope Stage 31. Quat. Sci. Rev. 228, 106069 (2020).
Kunz-Pirrung, M., Gersonde, R. & Hodell, D. A. Mid-Brunhes century-scale diatom sea surface temperature and sea ice records from the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean (ODP Leg 177, sites 1093, 1094 and core PS2089-2). Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 182, 305–328 (2002).
Levy, R. H. et al. Antarctic ice-sheet sensitivity to obliquity forcing enhanced through ocean connections. Nat. Geosci. 12, 132–137 (2019).
Diester-Haass, L., Billups, K. & Lear, C. Productivity changes across the mid-Pleistocene climate transition. Earth Sci. Rev. 179, 372–391 (2018).
Siegert, M., Alley, R. B., Rignot, E., Englander, J. & Corell, R. Twenty-first century sea-level rise could exceed IPCC projections for strong-warming futures. One Earth 3, 691–703 (2020).
Matsuoka, K. et al. Quantarctica, an integrated mapping environment for Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, and sub-Antarctic islands. Environ. Model. Softw. 140, 105015 (2021).
Wilson, G. S., Florindo, F., Sagnotti, L. & Ohneiser, C. Palaeomagnetism of the AND-1B core, ANDRILL McMurdo Ice Shelf Project, Antartica. Terra Antartica 14, 289–296 (2007).
Ohneiser, C. & Wilson, G. Revised magnetostratigraphic chronologies for New Harbour drill cores, southern Victoria Land, Antarctica. Glob. Planet. Change 82–83, 12–24 (2012).
Roberts, A. P., Heslop, D., Zhao, X. & Pike, C. R. Understanding fine magnetic particle systems through use of first-order reversal curve diagrams. Rev. Geophys. 52, 557–602 (2014).
Lamy, F., Winkler, G. Alvarez Zarikian, C. A. & Expedition 383 scientists. Dynamics of the Pacific Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Proc. Int. Ocean Discovery Program 383, 383–103 (2021).
Warnock, J. P. & Scherer, R. P. Diatom species abundance and morphologically-based dissolution proxies in coastal Southern Ocean assemblages. Cont. Shelf Res. 102, 1–8 (2015).
Sjunneskog, C. & Scherer, R. P. Mixed diatom assemblages in glacigenic sediment from the central Ross Sea, Antarctica. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 218, 287–300 (2005).
Warny, S., Wrenn, J. H., Bart, P. J. & Askin, R. Palynology of the NBP03–01 A transect in the Northern Basin, Western Ross Sea, Antarctica: a late Pliocene record. Palynology 30, 151–182 (2006).
Ohneiser, C. et al. Magneto-biostratigraphic age models for Pleistocene sedimentary records from the Ross Sea. Glob. Planet. Change 176, 36–49 (2019).
We thank curators, staff and students of the Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility, Florida State University, for assistance with sample collection. R. McKay provided guidance as we developed the IBRD record, and G. Kerr assisted in preparation of reagents for biogenic silica dissolution. This project was funded by the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute (NZARI, 2015-5) with additional support from a University of Otago Research Grant (2017) and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment through the Antarctic Science Platform (ANTA1801).
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information
Nature Geoscience thanks Reed Scherer, Gerhard Kuhn, Luigi Jovane and Leonardo Sagnotti and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor(s): James Super, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
NBP03-01A-20A magnetostratigraphy and magnetic properties. (a) Downcore Characteristic Remanent Magnetisation (ChRM) inclination, (b) Maximum Angular Deviation (MAD), (c) magnetic polarity zonations (black intervals are normal polarity, white zones represent reversed polarity), (d) Natural Remanent Magnetisation (NRM), (e) Anhysteretic Remanent Magnetisation (ARM), Hysteresis derived (f) Remanent Magnetisation (Mr), (g) Saturation Magnetisation (Ms), (h) Coercivity (Bc), and (i) Isothermal Remanence Coercivity of remanence (Bcr). MAD values are low for the most part (<10°) indicating good quality demagnetisation data with a very low noise level and Bcr is low with an average of c. 30-40 mT indicating low coercivity minerals are dominant in the fine-grained sediments. Bcr values are not indicative of magnetic mineralogy of drop stones.
Extended Data Fig. 2 Representative alternating field demagnetisation behaviour for normal and reversed polarity samples.
Representative alternating field demagnetisation behaviour for normal and reversed polarity samples. All samples have a low coercivity viscous overprint which is demagnetised in the first few steps. Normal polarity samples (a-c) have very low Maximum Angular Deviation (MAD) values of <5°. Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was conducted on data between c. 15 mT and 40 mT. (d) a reversed polarity sample with a low MAD of 2.04°. The calculated Geocentric Axial Dipolar (GAD) inclination of the geomagnetic field at the core site should be c. -82° or 82° for normal and reversed polarity respectively. E and F are examples of poor data quality between 4.6 m and 5.1 m depth. E show an unstable magnetization and F shows a strongly magnetized, high coercivity interval, which likely indicates the presence of a IBRD clast.
Rock magnetic data from NBP03-01A-20A (a). Day plot of hysteresis and Isothermal Remanent Magnetisation (IRM) analyses indicating Pseudo Single Domain grains of Magnetite. (b) six selected hysteresis analyses showing changes in concentration. First Order Reversals Curve (FORC) analyses (c and d) indicate mixtures of single and pseudo single domain magnetite grains are dominant.
Palaeomagnetic, rock magnetic data and micro IBRD data.
Palaeomagnetic, rock magnetic data and micro IBRD data.
FORC_NBP03-01A-20A 5.5–6 m first-order reversals curve data for 5.5–6 m. FORC_NBP03-01A-20A 0.27-1m first-order reversals curve data for 0.27–1 m.
About this article
Cite this article
Ohneiser, C., Hulbe, C.L., Beltran, C. et al. West Antarctic ice volume variability paced by obliquity until 400,000 years ago. Nat. Geosci. 16, 44–49 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-01088-w