Nature 454, 1102-1105 (28 August 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07223; Received 14 November 2007; Accepted 27 June 2008

Late Pliocene Greenland glaciation controlled by a decline in atmospheric CO2 levels

Daniel J. Lunt1,2, Gavin L. Foster3, Alan M. Haywood4 & Emma J. Stone1

  1. BRIDGE, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol BS8 1SS, UK
  2. British Antarctic Survey, Geological Sciences Division, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
  3. Bristol Isotope Group, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK
  4. School of Earth and Environment, Environment Building, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

Correspondence to: Daniel J. Lunt1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.J.L. (Email: d.j.lunt@bristol.ac.uk).

It is thought1, 2 that the Northern Hemisphere experienced only ephemeral glaciations from the Late Eocene to the Early Pliocene epochs (about 38 to 4 million years ago), and that the onset of extensive glaciations did not occur until about 3 million years ago3, 4. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain this increase in Northern Hemisphere glaciation during the Late Pliocene5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Here we use a fully coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model and an ice-sheet model to assess the impact of the proposed driving mechanisms for glaciation and the influence of orbital variations on the development of the Greenland ice sheet in particular. We find that Greenland glaciation is mainly controlled by a decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the Late Pliocene. By contrast, our model results suggest that climatic shifts associated with the tectonically driven closure of the Panama seaway5, 6, with the termination of a permanent El Niño state7, 8, 9 or with tectonic uplift10 are not large enough to contribute significantly to the growth of the Greenland ice sheet; moreover, we find that none of these processes acted as a priming mechanism for glacial inception triggered by variations in the Earth's orbit.


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