Long‑term demise of sub‑Antarctic glaciers modulated by the Southern Hemisphere Westerlies
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionScientific Reports. 2021, 11, 8361. 10.1038/s41598-021-87317-5
The accelerated melting of ice on the Antarctic Peninsula and islands in the sub-Antarctic suggests that the cryosphere is edging towards an irreversible tipping point. How unusual is this trend of ice loss within the frame of natural variability, and to what extent can it be explained by underlying climate dynamics? Here, we present new high-resolution reconstructions of long-term changes in the extents of three glaciers on the island of South Georgia (54°S, 36°W), combining detailed analyses of glacial-derived sediments deposited in distal glacier-fed lakes and cosmogenic exposure dating of moraines. We document that the glaciers of South Georgia have gradually retracted since the Antarctic cold reversal (ACR, 14.5–12.8 ka), culminating in the disappearance of at least one of the reconstructed glaciers. The glacier retreat pattern observed in South Georgia suggests a persistent link to summer insolation at 55°S, which intensified during the period from the ACR to approximately 2 ka. It also reveals multi-decadal to centennial climate shifts superimposed on this long-term trend that have resulted in at least nine glacier readvances during the last 10.5 ka. Accompanying meridional changes in the Southern Hemisphere westerlies and their interconnection with local topography may explain these glacier readvances.