How useful is snow accumulation in reconstructing surface air temperature in Antarctica? A study combining ice core records and climate models

Improving our knowledge of the temporal and spatial variability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) surface mass balance (SMB) is crucial to reduce the uncertainties of past, present, and future Antarctic contributions to sea level rise. An examination of the surface air temperature–SMB relationship in model simulations demonstrates a strong link between the two. Reconstructions based on ice cores display a weaker relationship, indicating a model–data discrepancy that may be due to model biases or to the non-climatic noise present in the records. We find that, on the regional scale, the modeled relationship between surface air temperature and SMB is often stronger than between temperature and δ18O. This suggests that SMB data can be used to reconstruct past surface air temperature. Using this finding, we assimilate isotope-enabled SMB and δ18O model output with ice core observations to generate a new surface air temperature reconstruction. Although an independent evaluation of the skill is difficult because of the short observational time series, this new reconstruction outperforms the previous reconstructions for the continental-mean temperature that were based on δ18O alone. The improvement is most significant for the East Antarctic region, where the uncertainties are particularly large. Finally, using the same data assimilation method as for the surface air temperature reconstruction, we provide a spatial SMB reconstruction for the AIS over the last 2 centuries, showing large variability in SMB trends at a regional scale, with an increase (0.82 Gt yr−2) in West Antarctica over 1957–2000 and a decrease in East Antarctica during the same period (−0.13 Gt yr−2). As expected, this is consistent with the recent reconstruction used as a constraint in the data assimilation.


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Authors: Dalaiden, Quentin, Goosse, Hugues, Klein, François, Lenaerts, Jan T.M., Holloway, Max ORCIDORCID record for Max Holloway, Sime, Louise ORCIDORCID record for Louise Sime, Thomas, Elizabeth R. ORCIDORCID record for Elizabeth R. Thomas

On this site: Liz Thomas, Louise Sime, Max Holloway
1 January, 2020
The Cryosphere / 14
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