Data-constrained assessment of ocean circulation changes since the middle Miocene in an Earth system model

Katherine A. Crichton*, Andy Ridgwell, Daniel J. Lunt, Alex Farnsworth, Paul N. Pearson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Since the middle Miocene (15Ma, million years ago), the Earth's climate has undergone a long-term cooling trend, characterised by a reduction in ocean temperatures of up to 7-8 C. The causes of this cooling are primarily thought to be due to tectonic plate movements driving changes in large-scale ocean circulation patterns, and hence heat redistribution, in conjunction with a drop in atmospheric greenhouse gas forcing (and attendant ice-sheet growth and feedback). In this study, we assess the potential to constrain the evolving patterns of global ocean circulation and cooling over the last 15Ma by assimilating a variety of marine sediment proxy data in an Earth system model. We do this by first compiling surface and benthic ocean temperature and benthic carbon-13 (δ13C) data in a series of seven time slices spaced at approximately 2.5Myr intervals. We then pair this with a corresponding series of tectonic and climate boundary condition reconstructions in the cGENIE ("muffin"release) Earth system model, including alternative possibilities for an open vs. closed Central American Seaway (CAS) from 10Ma onwards. In the cGENIE model, we explore uncertainty in greenhouse gas forcing and the magnitude of North Pacific to North Atlantic salinity flux adjustment required in the model to create an Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) of a specific strength, via a series of 12 (one for each tectonic reconstruction) 2D parameter ensembles. Each ensemble member is then tested against the observed global temperature and benthic δ13C patterns. We identify that a relatively high CO2 equivalent forcing of 1120ppm is required at 15Ma in cGENIE to reproduce proxy temperature estimates in the model, noting that this CO2 forcing is dependent on the cGENIE model's climate sensitivity and that it incorporates the effects of all greenhouse gases. We find that reproducing the observed long-term cooling trend requires a progressively declining greenhouse gas forcing in the model. In parallel to this, the strength of the AMOC increases with time despite a reduction in the salinity of the surface North Atlantic over the cooling period, attributable to falling intensity of the hydrological cycle and to lowering polar temperatures, both caused by CO2-driven global cooling. We also find that a closed CAS from 10Ma to present shows better agreement between benthic δ13C patterns and our particular series of model configurations and data. A final outcome of our analysis is a pronounced ca. 1.5‰ decline occurring in atmospheric (and ca. 1‰ ocean surface) δ13C that could be used to inform future δ13C-based proxy reconstructions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2223-2254
Number of pages32
JournalClimate of the Past
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. Katherine A. Crichton (NERC; grant no NE/N001621/1 to Paul N. Pearson) and Daniel J. Lunt and Andy Ridgwell (grant no. NE/K014757/1) were supported by the Natural Environment Research Council. Andy Ridgwell acknowledges further support from the National Science Foundation (grant nos. 1702913 and 1736771).

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (grant nos. NE/N001621/1 and NE/K014757/1) and the National Science Foundation (grant nos. 1702913 and 1736771).

Publisher Copyright:
© Authors 2021


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