A global Neogene cooling trend culminated ~7 million years ago with the onset of Greenland glaciation. Increased ocean-atmosphere interaction and low- to high-latitude circulation are thought to be key factors in reorganizing late Miocene global temperature and precipitation patterns, but the drivers of this reorganization have yet to be identified. Here, we present new information about the evolution of the Atlantic-Mediterranean gateway that generated Mediterranean overflow. We use sedimentary and palaeogeographic evidence to constrain the timing and dimensions of this gateway and document the initiation of a saline plume of water within the North Atlantic. Today, this saline jet entrains and transports Eastern North Atlantic water and its dissolved inorganic carbon into the interior of the ocean, contributing to the drawdown of CO2 and the sensitivity of the ocean to atmospheric changes. We show that during the Miocene this transport emerged simultaneously with gateway restriction and propose that the resulting interaction of ocean-surface and ocean-interior carbon inventories would have greatly enhanced ocean-atmosphere exchange, preconditioning the Earth System for late Miocene cooling.