Holocene black carbon in Antarctica paralleled Southern Hemisphere climate

M. M. Arienzo, J. R. McConnell, L. N. Murphy, N. Chellman, S. Das, S. Kipfstuhl, R. Mulvaney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Black carbon (BC) and other biomass-burning (BB) aerosols are critical components of climate forcing, but quantification, predictive climate modeling, and policy decisions have been hampered by limited understanding of the climate drivers of BB and by the lack of long-term records. Prior modeling studies suggested that increased Northern Hemisphere anthropogenic BC emissions increased recent temperatures and regional precipitation, including a northward shift in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Two Antarctic ice cores were analyzed for BC, and the longest record shows that the highest BC deposition during the Holocene occurred ~8-6 k years before present in a period of relatively high austral burning season and low growing season insolation. Atmospheric transport modeling suggests South America (SA) as the dominant source of modern Antarctic BC and, consistent with the ice core record, climate model experiments using mid-Holocene and preindustrial insolation simulate comparable increases in carbon loss due to fires in SA during the mid-Holocene. SA climate proxies document a northward shifted ITCZ and weakened SA Summer Monsoon (SASM) during this period, with associated impacts on hydroclimate and burning. A second Antarctic ice core spanning the last 2.5 k years documents similar linkages between hydroclimate and BC, with the lowest deposition during the Little Ice Age characterized by a southerly shifted ITCZ and strengthened SASM. These new results indicate that insolation-driven changes in SA hydroclimate and BB, likely linked to the position of the ITCZ, modulated Antarctic BC deposition during most of the Holocene and suggests connections and feedbacks between future BC emissions and hydroclimate. Plain Language Summary Future anthropogenic-driven climate change may impact wildfires, yet predictions are hampered by few long-term records of natural wildfires, particularly for the Southern Hemisphere. We document large variations in black carbon deposition during the past 14,000 years from an Antarctic ice core. Black carbon is a tracer for wildfires and is a significant climate forcing agent. We show that black carbon in Antarctica closely followed Southern Hemisphere hydroclimate and strength of the South American Summer Monsoon. With future predictions showing significant low-latitude changes in precipitation under increased emissions, the climate-fire linkages presented here suggest future changes to South American biomass burning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6713-6728
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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