Summer sea-ice variability on the Antarctic margin during the last glacial period reconstructed from snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea) stomach-oil deposits [in review]

Antarctic sea ice is a critical component of the climate system, affecting a range of physical and biogeochemical feedbacks, and supporting unique ecosystems. During the last glacial stage, Antarctic sea ice was more extensive than today, but uncertainties in geological (marine sediments), glaciological (ice core), and climate model reconstructions of past sea-ice extent continue to limit our understanding of its role in the Earth system. Here, we present a novel archive of past sea-ice environments from regurgitated stomach oils of snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea), preserved at nesting sites in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica. We show that by combining information from fatty acid distributions and their stable carbon isotope ratios with measurements of bulk carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes and trace metal data, it is possible to reconstruct changing snow petrel diet within Marine Isotope Stage 2 (ca. 22.6–28.8 cal. kyr BP). We show that, as today, a mixed diet of krill and fish characterises much of the record. However, between 25.7–26.8 cal. kyr BP signals of krill almost disappear. By linking dietary signals in the stomach-oil deposits to modern feeding habits and foraging ranges, we infer the use by snow petrels of open water habitats (‘polynyas’) in the sea ice during our interval of study. The periods when consumption of krill was reduced are interpreted to correspond to the opening of polynyas over the continental shelf, which became the preferred foraging habitat. Our results challenge hypotheses that the development of extensive, thick, multi-year sea-ice close to the continent was a key driver of positive sea ice-climate feedbacks during glacial stages, and highlight the potential of stomach-oil deposits as a palaeo-environmental archive of Southern Ocean conditions.


Publication status:
Published Online
Authors: McClymont, Erin L., Bentley, Michael J., Hodgson, Dominic A. ORCIDORCID record for Dominic A. Hodgson, Spencer-Jones, Charlotte L., Wardley, Thomas, West, Martin D., Croudace, Ian W., Berg, Sonja, Gröcke, Darren R., Kuhn, Gerhard, Jamieson, Stewart S.R., Sime, Louise ORCIDORCID record for Louise Sime, Phillips, Richard A.

On this site: Dominic Hodgson, Louise Sime, Richard Phillips
5 October, 2021
Climate of the Past: Discussions
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