Retreat of Southern Hemisphere Sea Ice, 130 000 to 116 000 years BP

Sea ice is of huge importance to global climate, the Antarctic ice sheet, and to all life in the Southern Ocean. However the area covered by sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere is predicted to drastically decrease over the next century; the decrease by 2200 could be as much as 58%.
The models, on which predictions of sea ice loss are based, have never been tested against a documented retreat of Southern Hemisphere sea ice.

A major retreat in Northern Hemisphere sea ice since 1978 has enabled climate and sea ice models to be evaluated for their ability to replicate retreat data. This has helped ensure that we have high confidence in Arctic sea ice predictions. In the Southern Hemisphere, there has been no similar sea retreat since 1978, which has meant that models cannot be tested against retreat data. This lack of sea ice retreat data has thus been a major contributor to the current lack of confidence in Southern Hemisphere sea ice forecasts. Here we propose to address this lack of data which covers a retreat of the Southern Hemisphere sea ice. We have found a period during the Last Interglacial (LIG) between 130,000 and 116,000 years Before Present (BP), when there was a substantial retreat in Southern Hemisphere sea ice. By reconstructing and modelling a retreat during this LIG period, under a climate which was similar to that of today, this proposal aims to transform understanding of the structure and causes of a major Southern Hemisphere retreat event. The project will be the first ever quantitative investigation of a large Southern Hemisphere sea ice retreat, and will be be of considerable importance to both the sea ice and palaeoclimate science communities. We will generate a new LIG sea ice dataset, using a robust new statistical approach. This will draw from, and build upon, the core expertise of our science team members. Our new Southern Hemisphere sea ice data data will then be used to help establish the cause of the LIG retreat and to test current climate and sea ice models. In addition to identifying the most likely cause of the decrease in sea ice during the LIG, this project will establish for the first time the degree of confidence that the sea ice community can have in our UK model-based predictions of a future retreat in Southern Hemisphere sea ice.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£298,337 GBP
Start date
31 May 2017
3 years 3 months 10 days
End date
10 Sep 2020