Tech 101 - Interpreting climate change in Antarctica.
Antarctica, the “harsh continent,” is the highest, driest, coldest, and windiest place on Earth. A continent-spanning ice cap belies cold desert conditions under which climate records accumulate with glacial slowness. Antarctica is the storehouse of the world’s oldest iceborne climate records, preserved in the Antarctic deep freeze for millions of years. But Antarctica is also a living laboratory in which the decadal effects of climate change can be directly observed. Accordingly, Antarctica serves as a valuable scientific resource for understanding past climate conditions as well as for gauging the current trajectory of climate change (Fig 1).
A Lens for Climate Change
Climate information from Antarctica comes from three major sources: the land ice record, the marine (sedimentary) record, and the ecosystem record. Because marine sedimentary records exist at all latitudes, only the Antarctic land ice and ecosystem records will be discussed. Ice cores from interior Antarctica provide a long and continuous record of atmospheric conditions in the southern hemisphere, while ecosystem records give us insight into the response of the Earth’s biosphere, hydrosphere, and cryosphere to ongoing and future changes.