Article

Plio-Pleistocene climate sensitivity evaluated using high-resolution CO2 records

  • Nature volume 518, pages 4954 (05 February 2015)
  • doi:10.1038/nature14145
  • Download Citation
Received:
Accepted:
Published online:

Abstract

Theory and climate modelling suggest that the sensitivity of Earth’s climate to changes in radiative forcing could depend on the background climate. However, palaeoclimate data have thus far been insufficient to provide a conclusive test of this prediction. Here we present atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) reconstructions based on multi-site boron-isotope records from the late Pliocene epoch (3.3 to 2.3 million years ago). We find that Earth’s climate sensitivity to CO2-based radiative forcing (Earth system sensitivity) was half as strong during the warm Pliocene as during the cold late Pleistocene epoch (0.8 to 0.01 million years ago). We attribute this difference to the radiative impacts of continental ice-volume changes (the ice–albedo feedback) during the late Pleistocene, because equilibrium climate sensitivity is identical for the two intervals when we account for such impacts using sea-level reconstructions. We conclude that, on a global scale, no unexpected climate feedbacks operated during the warm Pliocene, and that predictions of equilibrium climate sensitivity (excluding long-term ice-albedo feedbacks) for our Pliocene-like future (with CO2 levels up to maximum Pliocene levels of 450 parts per million) are well described by the currently accepted range of an increase of 1.5 K to 4.5 K per doubling of CO2.

  • Subscribe to Nature for full access:

    $199

    Subscribe

Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.

References

  1. 1.

    IPCC. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds et al.) 1–1535 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)

  2. 2.

    On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground. Philos. Mag. 41, 237–276 (1896)

  3. 3.

    et al. Making sense of palaeoclimate sensitivity. Nature 491, 683–691 (2012)

  4. 4.

    Does the Last Glacial Maximum constrain climate sensitivity? Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L18701 (2006)

  5. 5.

    & State-dependent climate sensitivity in past warm climates and its implication for future climate projections. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 110, 14162–14167 (2013)

  6. 6.

    , , & Enhanced chemistry-climate feedbacks in past greenhouse worlds. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 9770–9775 (2011)

  7. 7.

    , & Robust increase in equilibrium climate sensitivity under global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 5944–5948 (2013)

  8. 8.

    et al. Efficacy of climate forcings. J. Geophys. Res. 110 (2005)

  9. 9.

    & Radiative forcing at high concentrations of well-mixed greenhouse gases. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 152–160 (2014)

  10. 10.

    et al. Earth system sensitivity inferred from Pliocene modelling and data. Nature Geosci. 3, 60–64 (2010)

  11. 11.

    & Modelling Pliocene warmth: contribution of atmosphere, oceans and cryosphere. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 218, 363–377 (2004)

  12. 12.

    et al. High tide of the warm Pliocene: implications of global sea level for Antarctic deglaciation. Geology 40, 407–410 (2012)

  13. 13.

    et al. Sea-level and deep-sea-temperature variability over the past 5.3 million years. Nature 508, 477–482 (2014)

  14. 14.

    et al. On the causes of mid-Pliocene warmth and polar amplification. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 321–322, 128–138 (2012)

  15. 15.

    et al. Large-scale features of Pliocene climate: results from the Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project. Clim. Past 9, 191–209 (2013)

  16. 16.

    , , & High Earth-system climate sensitivity determined from Pliocene carbon dioxide concentrations. Nature Geosci. 3, 27–30 (2010)

  17. 17.

    & Convergent Cenozoic CO2 history. Nature Geosci. 4, 418–420 (2011)

  18. 18.

    et al. Calibration of the boron isotope proxy in the planktonic foraminifera Globigerinoides ruber for use in palaeo-CO2 reconstruction. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 364, 111–122 (2013)

  19. 19.

    & Surface ocean pH response to variations in pCO2 through two full glacial cycles. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 236, 305–314 (2005)

  20. 20.

    Seawater pH, pCO2 and [CO32-] variations in the Caribbean Sea over the last 130 kyr: a boron isotope and B/Ca study of planktic foraminifera. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 271, 254–266 (2008)

  21. 21.

    et al. Climatological mean and decadal change in surface ocean pCO2, and net sea-air CO2 flux over the global oceans. Deep Sea Res. II 56, 554–577 (2009)

  22. 22.

    & Pliocene-Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic δ18O records. Paleoceanography 20 (2005)

  23. 23.

    , & Atmospheric CO2 decline during the Pliocene intensification of Northern Hemisphere Glaciations. Paleoceanography 26, PA4213 (2012)

  24. 24.

    , , & The response of calcifying plankton to climate change in the Pliocene. Biogeosciences 10, 6131–6139 (2013)

  25. 25.

    et al. Alkenone and boron based Plio-Pleistocene pCO2 records. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 292, 201–211 (2010)

  26. 26.

    , , & High resolution alkenone palaeobarometry indicates relatively stable pCO2 during the Pliocene (3.3 to 2.8 Ma). Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 373, 20130094 (2013)

  27. 27.

    et al. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399, 429–436 (1999)

  28. 28.

    et al. High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000–800,000 years before present. Nature 453, 379–382 (2008)

  29. 29.

    et al. Stable carbon cycle-climate relationship during the Late Pleistocene. Science 310, 1313–1317 (2005)

  30. 30.

    , , , & Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration across the Mid-Pleistocene Transition. Science 324, 1551–1554 (2009)

  31. 31.

    et al. What caused Earth's temperature variations during the last 800,000 years? Data-based evidence on radiative forcing and constraints on climate sensitivity. Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 129–145 (2010)

  32. 32.

    , , , & Sea surface and high-latitude temperature sensitivity to radiative forcing of climate over several glacial cycles. J. Clim. 25, 1635–1656 (2012)

  33. 33.

    et al. Thresholds for Cenozoic bipolar glaciation. Nature 455, 652–656 (2008)

  34. 34.

    Oxygen isotope analyses and Pleistocene temperatures re-assessed. Nature 215, 15–17 (1967)

  35. 35.

    , , , & Reconstruction of a continuous high-resolution CO2 record over the past 20 million years. Clim. Past 7, 1459–1469 (2011)

  36. 36.

    & Absolute chronology for major Pleistocene advances of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Geology 38, 795–798 (2010)

  37. 37.

    et al. An alternative suggestion for the Pliocene onset of major northern hemisphere glaciation based on geochemical provenance of North Atlantic Ocean ice-rafted debris. Quat. Sci. Rev. 75, 181–194 (2013)

  38. 38.

    , , , & A latest Pliocene age for the earliest and most extensive Cordilleran Ice Sheet in northwestern Canada. Quat. Sci. Rev. 61, 77–84 (2013)

  39. 39.

    , , & Late Pliocene Greenland glaciation controlled by a decline in atmospheric CO2 levels. Nature 454, 1102–1105 (2008)

  40. 40.

    et al. Assessing confidence in Pliocene sea surface temperatures to evaluate predictive models. Nature Clim. Change 2, 365–371 (2012)

  41. 41.

    et al. Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation. Nature 484, 49–54 (2012)

  42. 42.

    , , & How warming and steric sea level rise relate to cumulative carbon emissions. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39 (2012)

  43. 43.

    , , & New estimates of radiative forcing due to well mixed greenhouse gases. Geophys. Res. Lett. 25, 2715–2718 (1998)

  44. 44.

    et al. Antarctic temperature and global sea level closely coupled over the past five glacial cycles. Nature Geosci. 2, 500–504 (2009)

  45. 45.

    et al. Evolution of ocean tempeature and ice volume through the Mid-Pleistocene climate transition. Science 337, 704–709 (2012)

  46. 46.

    & Constraints on the amplitude of Mid-Pliocene (3.6–2.4 Ma) eustatic sea-level fluctuations from the New Zealand shallow-marine sediment record. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 367, 169–187 (2009)

  47. 47.

    et al. Patterns and mechanisms of early Pliocene warmth. Nature 496, 43–49 (2013)

  48. 48.

    et al. High sea surface temperatures in tropical warm pools during the Pliocene. Nature Geosci. 7, 606–611 (2014)

  49. 49.

    , , , & A 40-million-year history of atmospheric CO2. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 371, 20130096 (2013)

  50. 50.

    , , & Oak leaves as biosensors of late Neogene and early Pleistocene paleoatmospheric CO2 concentrations. Mar. Micropaleontol. 27, 299–312 (1996)

  51. 51.

    et al. Time-transgressive productivity changes in the North Atlantic upon Northern Hemisphere glaciation. Paleoceanography 28, 740–751 (2013)

  52. 52.

    , & A study of cleaning procedures used for foraminiferal Mg/Ca paleothermometry. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 4, 8407 (2003)

  53. 53.

    , , & Preferential dissolution of benthic foraminiferal calcite during laboratory reductive cleaning. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 8, Q06016 (2007)

  54. 54.

    , , & Boron isotopes and B/Ca in benthic foraminifera: proxies for the deep ocean carbonate system. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 302, 403–413 (2011)

  55. 55.

    , & Implications of seawater Mg/Ca variability for Plio-Pleistocene tropical climate reconstruction. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 269, 585–595 (2008)

  56. 56.

    & Deep time foraminifera Mg/Ca paleothermometry: nonlinear correction for secular change in seawater Mg/Ca. Paleoceanography 27, PA4205 (2012)

  57. 57.

    & isotopes and pore fluid chemistry in carbonate sediment of the Ontong Java Plateau: calcite recrystallisation rates and evidence for a rapid rise in seawater Mg over the last 10 million years. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 70, 3883–3904 (2006)

  58. 58.

    , & Li, Sr, Mg, and Na in foraminiferal calcite shells from laboratory culture, sediment traps, and sediment cores. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 49, 1327–1341 (1985)

  59. 59.

    , , & Core top calibration of Mg/Ca in tropical foraminifera: refining paleotemperature estimation. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 3, (2002)

  60. 60.

    et al. Boric Assay; Isotopic, and Assay Standard Reference Materials (US National Bureau of Standards Special Publication 260-17, 1970)

  61. 61.

    , , , & Experimental measurement of boron isotope fractionation in seawater. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 248, 276–285 (2006)

  62. 62.

    & Boron isotopic composition and concentration in modern marine carbonates. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 56, 537–543 (1992)

  63. 63.

    , & Mineral-fluid partitioning and isotopic fractionation of boron in synthetic calcium carbonate. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 59, 371–379 (1995)

  64. 64.

    Thermodynamics of the dissociation of boric-acid in synthetic seawater from 273.15 to 318.15 K. Deep-Sea Res. 37, 755–766 (1990)

  65. 65.

    , & Boron and magnesium isotopic composition of seawater. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 11, Q08015 (2010)

  66. 66.

    , , & Tropical ocean temperatures over the past 3.5 million years. Science 328, 1530–1534 (2010)

  67. 67.

    , , & Boron isotope systematics in large rivers: implications for the marine boron budget and paleo-pH reconstruction over the Cenozoic. Chem. Geol. 190, 123–140 (2002)

  68. 68.

    , & The evolution of pCO2, ice volume and climate during the middle Miocene. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 341-344, 243–254 (2012)

  69. 69.

    Cenozoic boron isotope variations in benthic foraminifers. Geology 41, 591–594 (2013)

  70. 70.

    & CO2 in Seawater: Equilibrium, Kinetics, Isotopes (Elsevier Oceanography Series 65, 2001)

  71. 71.

    R Core Team. R: a Language and Environment for Statistical Computing (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, 2013)

  72. 72.

    & History of carbonate ion concentration over the last 100 million years. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 68, 3521–3530 (2004)

  73. 73.

    et al. The middle Pleistocene transition: characteristics, mechanisms, and implications for long-term changes in pCO2. Quat. Sci. Rev. 25, 3150–3184 (2006)

  74. 74.

    et al. Interlaboratory comparison of boron isotope analyses of boric acid, seawater and marine CaCO3 by MC-ICPMS and NTIMS. Chem. Geol. 358, 1–14 (2013)

  75. 75.

    & Late Miocene threshold response of marine algae to carbon dioxide limitation. Nature 500, 558–562 (2013)

  76. 76.

    , , , & Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present. Science 292, 686–693 (2001)

  77. 77.

    , , , & High-amplitude variations in North Atlantic sea surface temperature during the early Pliocene warm period. Paleoceanography 24, PA2218 (2009)

  78. 78.

    , , & North Atlantic climate evolution through the Plio-Pleistocene climate transistions. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 300, 329–342 (2010)

  79. 79.

    et al. Greatly expanded tropical warm pool and weakened Hadley Circulation in the Early Pliocene. Science 323, 1714–1718 (2009)

  80. 80.

    , , & Pliocene-Pleistocene variability of upwelling activity, productivity, and nutrient cycling in the Benguela region. Geology 37, 871–874 (2009)

  81. 81.

    , , & Intensification of the Walker and Hadley atmospheric circulations during the Pliocene-Pleistocene climate transition. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 297, 103–110 (2010)

  82. 82.

    , & Evolution of the eastern tropical Pacific through Plio-Pleistocene glaciation. Science 312, 79–83 (2006)

  83. 83.

    , , , & Subpolar link to the emergence of the modern equatorial Pacific cold tongue. Science 328, 1550–1553 (2010)

  84. 84.

    , & Warm upwelling regions in the Pliocene warm period. Paleoceanography 22, PA3211. 22 (2007)

  85. 85.

    et al. Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. J. Geophys. Res. D 108, 4407 (2003)

  86. 86.

    , , , & Reassessing biases and other uncertainties in sea surface temperature observations in situ since 1850: 1. Measurement and sampling uncertainty. J. Geophys. Res. 116, D14103 (2011a)

  87. 87.

    , , , & Reassessing biases and other uncertainties in sea surface temperature observations measured in situ since 1850: 2. Biases and homogenization. J. Geophys. Res. 116, D14104 (2011b)

  88. 88.

    Bootstrap methods: another look at the jacknife. Ann. Stat. 7, 1–26 (1979)

  89. 89.

    et al. World Ocean Atlas 2013, Volume 1: Temperature (NOAA Atlas NESDIS 73, 2013)

  90. 90.

    Ocean Data View (2012)

  91. 91.

    et al. Constraints on the magnitude and patterns of ocean cooling at the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature Geosci. 2, 127–132 (2009)

  92. 92.

    , , , & Calibration of the alkenone paleotemperature index UK'37 based on core-tops from the eastern South Atlantic and the global ocean (60 N-60 S). Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 62, 1757–1772 (1998)

  93. 93.

    et al. Sea-level fluctuations during the last glacial cycle. Nature 423, 853–858 (2003)

Download references

Acknowledgements

This study used samples provided by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). We thank A. Milton at the University of Southampton for maintaining the mass spectrometers used in this study. S. Cherry and T. Garlichs are acknowledged for their help with sample preparation and we thank D. Liebrand for his assistance with time series analysis. This study was funded by NERC grants NE/H006273/1 to R.D.P., G.L.F., D.J.L. and D.N.S. (which supported M.A.M.-B. and M.P.S.B.) and NE/I006346/1 to P.F.S. and G.L.F. M.A.M.-B. was also supported by the European Community through a Marie Curie Fellowship and E.J.R. was supported by 2012 Australian Laureate Fellowship FL120100050. G.L.F. also wishes to acknowledge the support of Yale University (as Visiting Flint Lecturer).

Author information

Author notes

    • M. A. Martínez-Botí
    •  & G. L. Foster

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK

    • M. A. Martínez-Botí
    • , G. L. Foster
    • , T. B. Chalk
    •  & E. J. Rohling
  2. Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia

    • E. J. Rohling
  3. Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK

    • P. F. Sexton
  4. School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol, BS8 1SS, UK

    • D. J. Lunt
  5. The Cabot Institute, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1UJ, UK

    • D. J. Lunt
    • , R. D. Pancost
    • , M. P. S. Badger
    •  & D. N. Schmidt
  6. Organic Geochemistry Unit, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TS, UK

    • R. D. Pancost
    •  & M. P. S. Badger
  7. School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK

    • D. N. Schmidt

Authors

  1. Search for M. A. Martínez-Botí in:

  2. Search for G. L. Foster in:

  3. Search for T. B. Chalk in:

  4. Search for E. J. Rohling in:

  5. Search for P. F. Sexton in:

  6. Search for D. J. Lunt in:

  7. Search for R. D. Pancost in:

  8. Search for M. P. S. Badger in:

  9. Search for D. N. Schmidt in:

Contributions

M.A.M.-B. and T.B.C. collected the data and G.L.F. performed all relevant calculations. P.F.S. helped with sample preparation for δ11B analysis and refined the age models used for ODP Sites 999 and 662. G.L.F., M.A.M.-B. and T.B.C. constructed the first draft of the manuscript and all authors contributed specialist insights that helped refine the manuscript. G.L.F., R.D.P., D.J.L. and D.N.S. conceived the study.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to G. L. Foster.

Extended data

Supplementary information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Tables 1-5.

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.