Warm climate isotopic simulations: what do we learn about interglacial signals in Greenland ice cores?

Measurements of Last Interglacial stable water isotopes in ice cores show that central Greenland d18O increased by at least 3& compared to present day. Attempting to quantify the Greenland interglacial temperature change from these ice core measurements rests on our ability to interpret the stable water isotope content of Greenland snow. Current orbitally driven interglacial simulations do not show d18O or temperature rises of the correct magnitude, leading to difficulty in using only these experiments to inform our understanding of higher interglacial d18O. Here, analysis of greenhouse gas warmed simulations from two isotope-enabled general circulation models, in conjunction with a set of Last Interglacial sea surface observations, indicates a possible explanation for the interglacial d18O rise. A reduction in the winter time sea ice concentration around the northern half of Greenland, together with an increase in sea surface temperatures over the same region, is found to be sufficient to drive a >3& interglacial enrichment in central Greenland snow. Warm climate d18O and dD in precipitation falling on Greenland are shown to be strongly influenced by local sea surface condition changes: local sea surface warming and a shrunken sea ice extent increase the proportion of water vapour from local (isotopically enriched) sources, compared to that from distal (isotopically depleted) sources. Precipitation intermittency changes, under warmer conditions, leads to geographical variability in the d18O against temperature gradients across Greenland. Little sea surface warming around the northern areas of Greenland leads to low d18O against temperature gradients (0.1e0.3& per �C), whilst large sea surface warmings in these regions leads to higher gradients (0.3e0.7& per �C). These gradients imply a wide possible range of present day to interglacial temperature increases (4 to >10 �C). Thus, we find that uncertainty about local interglacial sea surface conditions, rather than precipitation intermittency changes, may lead to the largest uncertainties in interpreting temperature from Greenland ice cores. We find that interglacial sea surface change observational records are currently insufficient to enable discrimination between these different d18O against temperature gradients. In conclusion, further information on interglacial sea surface temperatures and sea ice changes around northern Greenland should indicate whether þ5 �C during the Last Interglacial is sufficient to drive the observed ice core d18O increase, or whether a larger temperature increases or ice sheet changes are also required to explain the ice core observations.


Publication status:
Authors: Sime, Louise C. ORCIDORCID record for Louise C. Sime, Risi, Camille, Tindall, Julia C., Sjolte, Jesper, Wolff, Eric W., Masson-Delmotte, Valérie, Capron, Emilie ORCIDORCID record for Emilie Capron

On this site: Emilie Capron, Eric Wolff, Louise Sime
1 May, 2013
Quaternary Science Reviews / 67
Link to published article: