Triple water-isotopologue record from WAIS Divide, Antarctica: Controls on glacial-interglacial changes in 17Oexcess of precipitation

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Abstract

Measurements of the 17Oexcess of H2O were obtained from ice cores in West and East Antarctica. Combined with previously published results from East Antarctica, the new data provide the most complete spatial and temporal view of Antarctic 17Oexcess to date. There is a steep spatial gradient of 17Oexcess in present-day precipitation across Antarctica, with higher values in marine-influenced regions and lower values in the East Antarctic interior. There is also a spatial pattern to the change in 17Oexcess between the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and Holocene periods. At coastal locations, there is no significant change in 17Oexcess. At both the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide site and at Vostok, East Antarctica, the LGM to Early Holocene change in 17Oexcess is about 20 per meg. Atmospheric general circulation model (GCM) experiments show that both the observed spatial gradient of 17Oexcess in modern precipitation, and the spatial pattern of LGM to Early Holocene change, can be explained by kinetic isotope effects during snow formation under supersaturated conditions, requiring a high sensitivity of supersaturation to temperature. The results suggest that fractionation during snow formation is the primary control on 17Oexcess in Antarctic precipitation. Variations in moisture source relative humidity play a negligible role in determining the glacial-interglacial 17Oexcess changes observed in Antarctic ice cores. Additional GCM experiments show that sea ice expansion increases the area over which supersaturating conditions occur, amplifying the effect of colder temperatures. Temperature and sea ice changes alone are sufficient to explain the observed 17Oexcess glacial-interglacial changes across Antarctica.