Articles | Volume 10, issue 3
Research article
11 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 11 Jun 2014

Centennial-scale variability of the Southern Hemisphere westerly wind belt in the eastern Pacific over the past two millennia

B. G. Koffman, K. J. Kreutz, D. J. Breton, E. J. Kane, D. A. Winski, S. D. Birkel, A. V. Kurbatov, and M. J. Handley

Abstract. We present the first high-resolution (sub-annual) dust particle data set from West Antarctica, developed from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide deep ice core (79.468° S, 112.086° W), and use it to reconstruct changes in atmospheric circulation over the past 2400 years. We find a background dust flux of ~4 mg m−2 year−1 and a mode particle size of 5–8 μm diameter. Through comparing the WAIS Divide record with other Antarctic ice core particle records, we observe that coastal and lower-elevation sites have higher dust fluxes and coarser particle size distributions (PSDs) than sites on the East Antarctic plateau, suggesting input from local dust sources at these lower-elevation sites. In order to explore the use of the WAIS Divide dust PSD as a proxy for past atmospheric circulation, we make quantitative comparisons between both mid-latitude zonal wind speed and West Antarctic meridional wind speed and the dust size record, finding significant positive interannual relationships. We find that the dust PSD is related to mid-latitude zonal wind speed via cyclonic activity in the Amundsen Sea region. Using our PSD record, and through comparison with spatially distributed climate reconstructions from the Southern Hemisphere (SH) middle and high latitudes, we infer that the SH westerlies occupied a more southerly position from circa 1050 to 1400 CE (Common Era), coinciding with the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA). Subsequently, at ca. 1430 CE, the wind belt shifted equatorward, where it remained until the mid-to-late twentieth century. We find covariability between reconstructions of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the mid-latitude westerly winds in the eastern Pacific, suggesting that centennial-scale circulation changes in this region are strongly influenced by the tropical Pacific. Further, we observe increased coarse particle deposition over the past 50 years, consistent with observations that the SH westerlies have been shifting southward and intensifying in recent decades.