Geologist T.J. Fudge ’02 is lead corresponding author on a new study published in Nature, which reveals that West Antarctica started warming up from the last ice age a few thousand years earlier than previously thought — an insight that could influence our understanding of climate change today.
Previous data from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet indicated that the chilly continent began to warm up 18,000 years ago, two millennia after the northern hemisphere started warming. But when Fudge and his team drilled out a two-mile-long ice core from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet on the other side of the continent, they found evidence of warming as early as 22,000 years ago.
“This means that Antarctica did not wait for a cue from the northern hemisphere to start warming,” Fudge said. “Instead, the warming started because the wobble in Earth’s orbit around the sun led to more sunlight reaching Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.”
Fudge developed a timescale for the ice core by measuring the ice’s electrical conductivity (which waxes and wanes seasonally, leaving a tree-ring-like record of age) and also led the project’s climate interpretation.
“Our work shows that changes in both the north and south polar regions combined to start the deglaciation,” he said. The team’s finding will help scientists untangle factors involved in modern climate change as our planet goes through another bout of warming.
Currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington, Fudge will begin postdoctoral work this fall on a drilling project at the South Pole. His wife, Jessie Roberts Fudge ’03, worked as a doctor at the main U.S. base in Antarctica during his last project.