Early pliocene (pre-Ice Age) El Nino-like global climate: Which El Nino?

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Paleoceanographic data from sites near the equator in the eastern and western Pacific Ocean show that sea-surface temperatures, and apparently also the depth and temperature distribution in the thermocline, have changed markedly over the past similar to 4m.y., from those resembling an E1 Nino state before ice sheets formed in the Northern Hemisphere to the present-day marked contrast between the eastern and western tropical Pacific. In addition, differences between late Miocene to early Pliocene (pre-Ice Age) paleoclimates and present-day average climates, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, resemble those associated with teleconnections from E1 Nino events, consistent with the image of a permanent E1 Nino state. Agreement is imperfect in that many differences between early Pliocene and present-day climates of parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia do not resemble the anomalies associated with canonical E1 Nino teleconnections. The teleconnections associated with the largest E1 Nino event in the past 100 yr, that in 1997-1998, do, however, reveal similar patterns of warming and the same sense, if not magnitude, of precipitation anomalies shown by differences between late Miocene-early Pliocene paleoclimates and present-day mean climates in these regions. If less consistent than those for the 1997-1998 event, temperature and precipitation anomalies correlated with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation also mimic many differences between early Pliocene and present-day climates. These similarities suggest that the sea-surface temperature distribution in the Pacific Ocean before Ice Age time resembled most that of the 1997-1998 E1 Nino, with the warmest region extending into the easternmost Pacific Ocean, not near the dateline as occurs in most E1 Nino events. This inference is consistent with equatorial Pacific proxy data indicating that at most a small east-west gradient in sea-surface temperature seems to have existed along the equator in late Miocene to early Pliocene time. Accordingly, such a difference in sea-surface temperatures may account for the large global differences in climate that characterized the earth before ice sheets became frequent visitors to the Northern Hemisphere.


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Doi 10.1130/Ges00103.1