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Summer sea-ice variability on the Antarctic margin during the last glacial period reconstructed from snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea) stomach-oil deposits

McClymont, Erin L. and Bentley, Michael J. and Hodgson, Dominic A. and Spencer-Jones, Charlotte L. and Wardley, Thomas and West, Martin D. and Croudace, Ian W. and Berg, Sonja and Gröcke, Darren R. and Kuhn, Gerhard and Jamieson, Stewart S. R. and Sime, Louise and Phillips, Richard A. (2022) 'Summer sea-ice variability on the Antarctic margin during the last glacial period reconstructed from snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea) stomach-oil deposits.', Climate of the Past, 18 (2). pp. 381-403.


Antarctic sea ice is a critical component of the climate system affecting a range of physical and biogeochemical feedbacks and supporting unique ecosystems. During the last glacial stage, Antarctic sea ice was more extensive than today, but uncertainties in geological (marine sediments), glaciological (ice core), and climate model reconstructions of past sea-ice extent continue to limit our understanding of its role in the Earth system. Here, we present a novel archive of past sea-ice environments from regurgitated stomach oils of snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea) preserved at nesting sites in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica. We show that by combining information from fatty acid distributions and their stable carbon isotope ratios with measurements of bulk carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes and trace metal data, it is possible to reconstruct changing snow petrel diet within Marine Isotope Stage 2 (ca. 24.3–30.3 cal kyr BP). We show that, as today, a mixed diet of krill and fish characterizes much of the record. However, between 27.4 and 28.7 cal kyr BP signals of krill almost disappear. By linking dietary signals in the stomach-oil deposits to modern feeding habits and foraging ranges, we infer the use by snow petrels of open-water habitats (“polynyas”) in the sea ice during our interval of study. The periods when consumption of krill was reduced are interpreted to correspond to the opening of polynyas over the continental shelf, which became the preferred foraging habitat. Our results show that extensive, thick, and multiyear sea ice was not always present close to the continent during the last glacial stage and highlight the potential of stomach-oil deposits as a palaeoenvironmental archive of Southern Ocean conditions.

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Publisher statement:© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Date accepted:20 January 2022
Date deposited:04 March 2022
Date of first online publication:02 March 2022
Date first made open access:04 March 2022

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