Climate and environment of a Pliocene warm world

Ulrich Salzmann, Mark Williams, Alan Haywood, Andrew Johnson, Sev Kender, Jan Zalasiewicz

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113 Citations (Scopus)
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The Pliocene Epoch, 5.33–2.58 million years ago (Ma), was a generally warmer and wetter interval with atmospheric CO2-concentrations at or slightly above modern levels. This paper provides an overview of Pliocene vegetation, sea surface temperatures and climate modelling outcomes. Most prominent changes in Pliocene biome distribution compared to today include a northwards shift of temperate and boreal vegetation zones in response to a warmer and wetter climate as well as an expansion of tropical savannas and forests at the expense of deserts. Faunal analysis techniques and modelling experiments using the Hadley Centre climate model identified significantly higher Pliocene sea surface temperatures at mid and high latitudes of the northern hemisphere with cooling or unchanged sea surface temperatures at low latitudes. Global mean annual surface temperatures (MAT) are estimated to have been 2 to 3 °C higher during the Piacenzian (3.6–2.58 Ma) than today with a reduced equator to pole gradient. The marine realm during the Pliocene was characterised by a reconfiguration of ocean gateways, particularly the narrowing of the Indonesian Seaway and closure of the Central American Isthmus, which produced essentially a modern pattern of ocean circulation. In the Southern Ocean a warm early Pliocene gave way to late Piacenzian cooling. Proxy data indicate a reduced east to west sea surface temperature gradient in the tropical Pacific during the Pliocene warmth. The Pliocene is one of the most intensively studied geological intervals of the pre-Quaternary. No other warm period in the geological past yields such a unique combination of near modern atmospheric CO2-concentrations, palaeogeography and palaeobiology. However, this paper also identifies data gaps and shortcomings in the reconstruction of Pliocene environments using proxy data and climate models on which future research should focus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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