The origin of Antarctic precipitation: a modelling approach


  • Additional affiliation: Centre Européean de Recherche et d'Enseignement en Geoscience de l'Environment (CEREGE), Europóle de l'arbois BP 80, 13545 Aix-en-Provence Cedex, France.

Corresponding author.


The contribution of different moisture sources to Antarctic precipitation for present-day and glacial conditions is estimated with the NASA/GISS Atmospheric General Circulation Model. Despite its low horizontal resolution (8°×10°), this model simulates reasonably well the broad features of the observed present-day hydrological cycle. Simulated present-day Antarctic precipitation is dominated throughout the year by moisture from a subtropical/midlatitude band (30°S−60°S). The moisture supplied to a given coastal area of Antarctica originates mostly in the adjacent oceanic basin; closer to the pole, other oceanic basins can also contribute significantly. Replacing the present-day sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and sea ice cover in the GCM with those from the CLIMAP oceanic reconstruction for the last glacial maximum (LGM), greatly increases the simulated latitudinal temperature gradient, with the consequence of slightly enhancing the contribution of low latitude moisture to Antarctic precipitation. It also changes the seasonality of the different contributions and thus their budget, particularly in coastal regions. Because the nature of LGM tropical SSTs is still under debate, we performed an additional LGM simulation in which the tropical SSTs are reduced relative to those of CLIMAP. The resulting decrease in the latitudinal gradient brings the relative contributions to Antarctic precipitation more in line with those of the present-day simulation.