Nonlinear response of the Antarctic Ice Sheet to late Quaternary sea level and climate forcing

Michelle Tigchelaar, Axel Timmermann, Tobias Friedrich, Malte Heinemann, David Pollard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Antarctic ice volume has varied substantially during the late Quaternary, with reconstructions suggesting a glacial ice sheet extending to the continental shelf break and interglacial sea level highstands of several meters. Throughout this period, changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheet were driven by changes in atmospheric and oceanic conditions and global sea level; yet, so far modeling studies have not addressed which of these environmental forcings dominate and how they interact in the dynamical ice sheet response. Here, we force an Antarctic Ice Sheet model with global sea level reconstructions and transient, spatially explicit boundary conditions from a 408 ka climate model simulation, not only in concert with each other but, for the first time, also separately.We find that together these forcings drive glacial-interglacial ice volume changes of 12-14ms:l:e:, in line with reconstructions and previous modeling studies. None of the individual drivers-atmospheric temperature and precipitation, ocean temperatures, or sea level-single-handedly explains the full ice sheet response. In fact, the sum of the individual ice volume changes amounts to less than half of the full ice volume response, indicating the existence of strong nonlinearities and forcing synergy. Both sea level and atmospheric forcing are necessary to create full glacial ice sheet growth, whereas the contribution of ocean melt changes is found to be more a function of ice sheet geometry than climatic change. Our results highlight the importance of accurately representing the relative timing of forcings of past ice sheet simulations and underscore the need for developing coupled climate-ice sheet modeling frameworks that properly capture key feedbacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2615-2631
Number of pages17
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 9 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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