Disentangling the roles of late Miocene palaeogeography and vegetation: Implications for climate sensitivity

Catherine D. Bradshaw*, Daniel J. Lunt, Rachel Flecker, Taraka Davies-Barnard

*Corresponding author for this work

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

10 Citations (Scopus)
383 Downloads (Pure)


The impact of rising CO2 on future climate remains uncertain but the evidence for high CO2 in the palaeorecord suggests that past climates could provide a potentially quantifiable indication of climate in a high-CO2 world. One such past time period is the late Miocene (11.6-5.3Ma), for which CO2 reconstructions indicate higher levels than those of preindustrial, and similar to the present atmospheric level (~400ppm). The late Miocene palaeorecord suggests a much warmer and wetter Northern Hemisphere than preindustrial. However, vegetation feedbacks are an important component of the climate system and vegetation distribution reconstructions from the palaeorecord have been shown to be very different to the present vegetation distribution. We examine the roles that different vegetation and palaeogeography play in climate sensitivity for the late Miocene and consider the implications for potential future climate change. To do this we use coupled atmosphere-ocean-vegetation simulations of late Miocene and potential modern climates forced by three different CO2 concentrations with vegetation perturbation experiments and make quantitative comparisons to the palaeorecord. Optimal regions to target late Miocene palaeodata acquisition for the purposes of informing about future climate include North America, northern Africa, Australia, Paraguay and southern Brazil, and northeastern Asia. These regions are those which the model results predict to be most sensitive to CO2 forcing, but where the local temperature response to CO2 forcing is similar between the simulated potential modern and late Miocene climates. The model results suggest that climate sensitivity to CO2 forcing is directly affected by the palaeogeographic configuration and that the inferred climate sensitivity for doubled CO2 is 0.5-0.8°C higher for the late Miocene than we might expect for future climate because of differences in synergy. The greater land mass at high northern latitudes during the late Miocene and the differences in vegetation distribution predictions that result, combined with differences in ocean circulation and the effect of sea ice, make the late Miocene boundary conditions more sensitive to CO2 forcing than the modern boundary conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-34
Number of pages18
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Early online date14 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Climate modelling
  • Late Miocene
  • Vegetation
  • CO2
  • Palaeogeography
  • Climate sensitivity

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