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Closing of the Indonesian seaway as a precursor to east African aridification around 3–4 million years ago

Nature volume 411, pages 157162 (10 May 2001) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Global climate change around 3–4 Myr ago is thought to have influenced the evolution of hominids, via the aridification of Africa, and may have been the precursor to Pleistocene glaciation about 2.75 Myr ago. Most explanations of these climatic events involve changes in circulation of the North Atlantic Ocean due to the closing of the Isthmus of Panama. Here we suggest, instead, that closure of the Indonesian seaway 3–4 Myr ago could be responsible for these climate changes, in particular the aridification of Africa. We use simple theory and results from an ocean circulation model to show that the northward displacement of New Guinea, about 5 Myr ago, may have switched the source of flow through Indonesia—from warm South Pacific to relatively cold North Pacific waters. This would have decreased sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean, leading to reduced rainfall over eastern Africa. We further suggest that the changes in the equatorial Pacific may have reduced atmospheric heat transport from the tropics to higher latitudes, stimulating global cooling and the eventual growth of ice sheets.

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Acknowledgements

We thank K. Rodgers for providing the data for Fig. 4 in advance of publication. We also thank A. L. Gordon, P. deMenocal, H. Davies, L. Goddard, J. S. Godfrey, G. Krahmann, R. McCaffrey, N. Naik, S. G. Philander, M. Pubellier and K. Rodgers for help with figures, guidance and timely inspiration. M.A.C. was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

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  1. *Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York 01964-8000, USA

    • Mark A. Cane
  2. †Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA; and

    • Peter Molnar
  3. Department of Geological Sciences, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, Campus Box 399, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

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Correspondence to Mark A. Cane.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/35075500

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