The warm winter paradox in the Pliocene northern high latitudes

Julia C. Tindall*, Alan M. Haywood, Ulrich Salzmann, Aisling M. Dolan, Tamara Fletcher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Reconciling palaeodata with model simulations of the Pliocene climate is essential for understanding a world with atmospheric CO2 concentration near 400 ppmv (parts per million by volume). Both models and data indicate an amplified warming of the high latitudes during the Pliocene; however, terrestrial data suggest that Pliocene northern high-latitude temperatures were much higher than can be simulated by models.

We focus on the mid-Pliocene warm period (mPWP) and show that understanding the northern high-latitude terrestrial temperatures is particularly difficult for the coldest months. Here the temperatures obtained from models and different proxies can vary by more than 20 ∘C. We refer to this mismatch as the “warm winter paradox”.

Analysis suggests the warm winter paradox could be due to a number of factors including model structural uncertainty, proxy data not being strongly constrained by winter temperatures, uncertainties in data reconstruction methods, and the fact that the Pliocene northern high-latitude climate does not have a modern analogue. Refinements to model boundary conditions or proxy dating are unlikely to contribute significantly to the resolution of the warm winter paradox.

For the Pliocene high-latitude terrestrial summer temperatures, models and different proxies are in good agreement. Those factors which cause uncertainty in winter temperatures are shown to be much less important for the summer. Until some of the uncertainties in winter high-latitude Pliocene temperatures can be reduced, we suggest a data–model comparison should focus on the summer. This is expected to give more meaningful and accurate results than a data–model comparison which focuses on the annual mean.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1385–1405
Number of pages21
JournalClimate of the Past
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2022


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