Climate Change in the Antarctic

The Antarctic is experiencing a complex pattern of 20th century climate changes. The past is providing important clues.



Working with Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) and funded through the Australian Research Council (ARC), the team are developing ‘horizontal ice cores’ to reconstruct past changes preserved in the snow and ice. Our main focus has been on the blue ice area at Patriot Hills in the West Antarctic Horseshoe Valley  – made famous by Michael Palin's visit en route to the South Pole in the 1992 BBC TV series 'Pole to Pole'. Blue ice areas are formed by ferocious cold ‘katabatic’ winds which pour off the ice cap. The dry cold air leads to high rates of sublimation that removes more snow than accumulates by snowfall – a process called ablation – resulting in older ice being drawn up to the surface from deep below .


The practical upshot of this ancient upwelling ice is a walk towards Patriot Hills is a journey back through time. Our work over the last five years at Patriot Hills has shown the blue ice area may extend back more than 100,000 years, allowing us to take surface ice samples to produce an exceptionally long climate record - hence the term 'horizontal ice core.'  And because horizontal ice cores are largely taken using equipment purchased from a hardware store, they're an incredibly cheap way of developing ultra high-resolution climate records in a region where there is an urgent need for more datasets. We're now looking to role out this approach across the West and East Antarctic to create a unique network of  palaeoclimate records from Antarctica.


Alongside these efforts we have been taking tree and peat cores from subantarctic islands in the Southern Ocean and shallow snow cores from the continent to better understand the linkages between global climate and the Antarctic over recent centuries. These cores are extremely fragile but provide precious records of changing environmental conditions across the Antarctic and the role of the tropical Pacific in forcing global change.


Other key collaborators: Tas van Ommen (Australian Antarctic Division and University of Tasmania), Andrew Klecociuk (AAD/UTas), Andrew Moy (AAD/UTas), Mark Curran (AAD/UTas), David Etheridge (The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Mauro Rubino (CSIRO), David Thornton (CSIRO), Matt McGlone (Landcare Research, New Zealand), Jonathan Palmer (University of New South Wales), and Richard Jones (University of Exeter, UK).


If you would like to learn more, check out some of our recent research papers:


Fogwill, C.J., Turney, C.S.M., Golledge, N.R., Etheridge, D.M., Rubino, M., Thornton, D.P., Baker, A., Woodward, J., Winter, K., van Ommen, T.D., Moy, A.D., Curran, M.A.J., Davies, S.M., Weber, M.E., Bird, M.I., Munksgaard, N.C., Menviel, L., Rootes, C.M., Ellis, B., Millman, H., Vohra, J., Rivera, A. and Cooper, A. (2017) Antarctic ice sheet discharge driven by atmosphere-ocean feedbacks during the Last Glacial Termination. Nature Scientific Reports, 7, 39979.


Turney, C., Fogwill, C., Palmer, J., van Sebille, E., Thomas, Z., McGlone, M., Richardson, S., Wilmshurst, J., Fenwick, P., Zunz, V., Goosse, H., Wilson, K.-J., Carter, L., Lipson, M., Jones, R., Harsch, M., Clark, G., Marzinelli, E., Rogers, T., Rainsley, E., Ciasto, L., Waterman, S., Thomas, E.R. and Visbeck, M. (2017). Tropical forcing of increased Southern Ocean climate variability revealed by a 140-year subantarctic temperature reconstruction. Climate of the Past, 13, 231-248, doi: 10.5194/cp-13-231-2017.


Turney, C.S.M., Wilmshurst, J.M., Jones, R.T., Wood, J.R., Palmer, J.G., Hogg, A.G., Fenwick, P. Crowley, S., Privat, K. and Thomas, Z. (2017) Reconstructing atmospheric circulation over southern New Zealand: Establishment of modern westerly airflow 5500 years ago and implications for Southern Hemisphere Holocene climate change. Quaternary Science Reviews, 159, 77-87, doi: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2016.12.017.


Turney, C.S.M., Jones, R., Lister, D., Jones, P., Williams, A.N., Hogg, A., Thomas, Z., Compo, G.P., Yin, X., Fogwill, C.J., Palmer, J., Colwell, S., Allan, R. and Visbeck, M. (2016) Anomalous mid-twentieth century atmospheric circulation change over the South Atlantic temperatures compared to the last 6000 years. Environmental Research Letters, 11 (6), 64009-64022.


Turney, C.S.M., Jones, R.T., Fogwill, C., Hatton, J., Williams, A.N., Hogg, A., Thomas, Z.A., Palmer, J., Mooney, S. and Reimer, R.W. (2016) A 250-year periodicity in Southern Hemisphere westerly winds over the last 2600 years. Climate of the Past, 12, 189-200.


Turney, C.S.M., McGlone, M., Palmer, J., Fogwill, C., Hogg, A., Lipson, M., Thomas, Z., Wilmshurst, J., Fenwick, P., Jones, R., Hones, B. and Clark, G. (2016) Intensification of Southern Hemisphere westerly winds 2000 to 1000 years ago: Evidence from the Subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands (50-52 ̊S).  Journal of Quaternary Science, 31, 12-19, doi: 10.1002/jqs.2828.


Turney, C.S.M., Fogwill, C.J., Klekociuk, A.R., van Ommen, T.D., Curran, M.A.J., Moy, A.D., Palmer, J.G. (2015) Tropical and mid-latitude forcing of continental Antarctic temperatures. The Cryosphere, 9, 2405-2415.


Turney, C.S.M., Fogwill, C.J., Van Ommen, T.D., Moy, A.D., Etheridge, D., Rubino, M., Curran, M.A.J. and Rivera, A. (2013) Late Pleistocene and early Holocene change in the Weddell Sea: A new climate record from the Patriot Hills, Ellsworth Mountains, West Antarctica. Journal of Quaternary Science, 28, 697-704.


McGlone, M.S., Turney, C.S.M., Wilmshurst, J.M. and Pahnke, K. (2010) Divergent trends in land and ocean temperature in the Southern Ocean over the past 18,000 years. Nature Geoscience, 3, 622-626.