Published August 19, 2020 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Bipolar volcanic synchronization of abrupt climate change in Greenland and Antarctic ice cores during the last glacial period

  • 1. Physics of Ice, Climate and Earth, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 2. Quaternary Sciences, Department of Geology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
  • 3. Stiftung Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Bremerhaven, Germany
  • 4. Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute & Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 5. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, IPSL, UMR 8212, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ-UPS, Gif sur Yvette, France
  • 6. Université Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IRD, IGE, Grenoble, France
  • 7. College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA
  • 8. Desert Research Institute, Nevada System of Higher Education, Reno, NV, USA
  • 9. Department of Chemistry "Ugo Schiff", University of Florence, Florence, Italy
  • 10. British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK


Abstract. The last glacial period is characterized by a number of millennial climate events that have been identified in both Greenland and Antarctic ice cores and that are abrupt in Greenland climate records. The mechanisms governing this climate variability remain a puzzle that requires a precise synchronization of ice cores from the two hemispheres to be resolved. Previously, Greenland and Antarctic ice cores have been synchronized primarily via their common records of gas concentrations or isotopes from the trapped air and via cosmogenic isotopes measured on the ice. In this work, we apply ice core volcanic proxies and annual layer counting to identify large volcanic eruptions that have left a signature in both Greenland and Antarctica. Generally, no tephra is associated with those eruptions in the ice cores, so the source of the eruptions cannot be identified. Instead, we identify and match sequences of volcanic eruptions with bipolar distribution of sulfate, i.e. unique patterns of volcanic events separated by the same number of years at the two poles. Using this approach, we pinpoint 82 large bipolar volcanic eruptions throughout the second half of the last glacial
period (12–60 ka). This improved ice core synchronization is applied to determine the bipolar phasing of abrupt climate
change events at decadal-scale precision. In response to Greenland abrupt climatic transitions, we find a response in the Antarctic water isotope signals (18O and deuterium excess) that is both more immediate and more abrupt than that found with previous gas-based interpolar synchronizations, providing additional support for our volcanic framework. On average, the Antarctic bipolar seesaw climate response lags the midpoint of Greenland abrupt 18O transitions by 12224 years. The time difference between Antarctic signals in deuterium excess and 18O, which likewise informs the time needed to propagate the signal as described by the theory of the bipolar seesaw but is less sensitive to synchronization errors, suggests an Antarctic 18O lag behind Greenland of 152+-37 years. These estimates are shorter than the 200 years suggested by earlier gas-based synchronizations. As before, we find variations in the timing and duration between the response at different sites and for different events suggesting an interaction of oceanic and atmospheric teleconnection patterns as well as internal climate variability.



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TiPES – Tipping Points in the Earth System 820970
European Commission