A synthesis of the antarctic surface mass balance during the last eight centuries
1ENEA, Rome, Italy
2Department of Chemistry, University of Florence, Sesto F.no, Italy
3Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Roma, Italy
Abstract. Global climate models suggest that Antarctic snowfall should increase in a warming climate and mitigate sea level rise, mainly due to the greater moisture-holding capacity of the warmer atmosphere. Several processes act on snow accumulation or surface mass balance (SMB), introducing large uncertainties in the past, present, and future ice sheet mass balance. To provide an extended past perspective of the SMB of Antarctica, we used 66 firn/ice core records to reconstruct the temporal variability over the past eight centuries and in greater detail over the last two centuries. Our SMB reconstructions show that the changes over most of Antarctica are statistically negligible and the current SMB is not exceptionally high compared with the last eight centuries. However, a clear increase in accumulation of more than 10 % has occurred in high SMB coastal regions and over the highest part of the East Antarctic ice divide since 1960s. To explain the different behaviours between the coastal/ice divide sites and rest of Antarctica, we suggest that a higher frequency of blocking-anticyclones increases the precipitation at coastal sites, leading to the advection of moist air at the highest areas, whereas blowing snow and/or erosion have significant negative impacts on the SMB at windy sites. Eight centuries of SMB stacked records mirror the total solar irradiance, suggesting a link between the southern position of the Pacific Intertropical Convergence Zone and atmospheric circulation in Antarctica through the generation and propagation of a large-scale atmospheric wave train. Decadal records of the last eight centuries show that the observed increase in accumulation is not anomalous at the continental scale; indeed, high accumulation periods have also occurred in the past, during the 1370s and 1610s.