The new Kr-86 excess ice core proxy for synoptic activity: West Antarctic storminess possibly linked to Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) movement through the last deglaciation

Christo Buizert*, Sarah Shackleton, Jeffrey P. Severinghaus, William H.G. Roberts, Alan Seltzer, Bernhard Bereiter, Kenji Kawamura, Daniel Baggenstos, Anaïs J. Orsi, Ikumi Oyabu, Benjamin Birner, Jacob D. Morgan, Edward J. Brook, David M. Etheridge, David Thornton, Nancy A. N. Bertler, Rebecca L. Pyne, Robert Mulvaney, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Peter D. NeffVasilii V. Petrenko

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Here we present a newly developed ice core gas-phase proxy that directly samples a component of the large-scale atmospheric circulation: synoptic-scale pressure variability. Surface pressure changes weakly disrupt gravitational isotopic settling in the firn layer, which is recorded in krypton-86 excess (86Krxs). The 86Krxs may therefore reflect the time-averaged synoptic pressure variability over several years (site "storminess"), but it likely cannot record individual synoptic events as ice core gas samples typically average over several years. We validate 86Krxs using late Holocene ice samples from 11 Antarctic ice cores and 1 Greenland ice core that collectively represent a wide range of surface pressure variability in the modern climate. We find a strong spatial correlation (r=-0.94, p<0.01) between site average 86Krxs and time-averaged synoptic variability from reanalysis data. The main uncertainties in the analysis are the corrections for gas loss and thermal fractionation and the relatively large scatter in the data. Limited scientific understanding of the firn physics and potential biases of 86Krxs require caution in interpreting this proxy at present. We show that Antarctic 86Krxs appears to be linked to the position of the Southern Hemisphere eddy-driven subpolar jet (SPJ), with a southern position enhancing pressure variability. We present a 86Krxs record covering the last 24 kyr from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide ice core. Based on the empirical spatial correlation of synoptic activity and 86Krxs at various Antarctic sites, we interpret this record to show that West Antarctic synoptic activity is slightly below modern levels during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), increases during the Heinrich Stadial 1 and Younger Dryas North Atlantic cold periods, weakens abruptly at the Holocene onset, remains low during the early and mid-Holocene, and gradually increases to its modern value. The WAIS Divide 86Krxs record resembles records of monsoon intensity thought to reflect changes in the meridional position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) on orbital and millennial timescales such that West Antarctic storminess is weaker when the ITCZ is displaced northward and stronger when it is displaced southward. We interpret variations in synoptic activity as reflecting movement of the South Pacific SPJ in parallel to the ITCZ migrations, which is the expected zonal mean response of the eddy-driven jet in models and proxy data. Past changes to Pacific climate and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) may amplify the signal of the SPJ migration. Our interpretation is broadly consistent with opal flux records from the Pacific Antarctic zone thought to reflect wind-driven upwelling. We emphasize that 86Krxs is a new proxy, and more work is called for to confirm, replicate, and better understand these results; until such time, our conclusions regarding past atmospheric dynamics remain speculative. Current scientific understanding of firn air transport and trapping is insufficient to explain all the observed variations in 86Krxs. A list of suggested future studies is provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-606
Number of pages28
JournalClimate of the Past
Volume19
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2023

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