The “iconic” Antarctic temperature trends are the large warming seen on the Antarctic Peninsula, which has had various repercussions including the collapse of several ice shelves (some documented in a previous post). Elsewhere, though, the pattern of surface warming is more complex – trends are smaller, and while more are positive than negative they are generally not significant – see this map. Contrary to what you might have heard, this is in general agreement with model predictions.
But meanwhile, there is a record for the upper atmosphere derived from radiosondes, which we have been working on – finding old datasets and digitising them to fill in gaps. What this shows is that around East Antarctica there is a general warming of the troposphere, greatest at around mid-height (at 600 hPa) at 0.7 ºC/decade over the last 30+ years.
In itself, this is an interesting observation. The obvious question is, what does it mean? Is this natural variability; is it a response to global warming, or to changes in ozone; or something else? Ozone is unlikely, because this is winter (which conveniently means that the radiosonde temperature corrections, often a source of potential trouble, are not a problem). Two ways of trying to interpret the record are to see what GCMs run for the same period show; or to look at the re-analyses (essentially, the archived outputs from the weather-prediction models). The latter, of course, incorporate many of the radiosonde observations that we are using, and so don’t count as independant. Despite this, the ECMWF re-analyses show *greater* trends than we see in the observations; and a maximum trend over West Antarctica (which has no radisonde stations to allow us to verify this). A climate model (HadCM3, with an ensemble of four members) shows similar patterns to the observations, but this time too little warming; and a good deal of variation between the ensemble members. So neither of these is helps much with the interpretation.
So we are currently left with an open question; hopefully, this will stimulate us and other researchers to explain it in the future.
[Quick addendum: the paper itself is available via this.]