Late 20th Century increase in South Pole snow accumulation


  • Ellen Mosley-Thompson,

  • J. F. Paskievitch,

  • A. J. Gow,

  • L. G. Thompson


A compilation of the 37-year history of net accumulation at the South Pole [Mosley-Thompson et al., 1995] suggests an increase in net annual accumulation since 1965. This record is sporadic and its quality is compromised by spatially restricted observations and nonsystematic measurement procedures. Results from a new, spatially extensive network of 236 accumulation poles document that the current 5-year (1992–1997) average annual net accumulation at the South Pole is 84.5 ± 8.9 mm water equivalent (w.e.). This accumulation rate reflects a 30% increase since the 1960s when the best, although not optimal, records indicate that it was 65 mm w.e. Identification of two prominent beta radioactivity horizons (1954/1955 and 1964/1965) in six firn cores confirms an increase in accumulation since 1965. Viewed from a longer perspective of accumulation provided by ice cores and a snow mine study, the net accumulation of the 30-year period, 1965–1994, is the highest 30-year average of this millennium. Limited data suggest this recent accumulation increase extends beyond the South Pole region and may be characteristic of the high East Antarctic Plateau. Enhanced accumulation over the polar ice sheets has been identified as a potential early indicator of warmer sea surface temperatures and may offset a portion of the current rise in global sea level.