During the Late Palaeogene between ~40 and 23 million years ago (Ma), Earth transitioned from a warm non-glaciated climate state and developed large dynamic ice sheets on Antarctica. This transition is largely inferred from the deep-sea oxygen isotope record because records from independent temperature proxies are sparse. Here we present a 25-million-year-long alkenone-based record of surface temperature change from the North Atlantic Ocean. Our long temperature record documents peak warmth (~29 °C) during the middle Eocene, a slow overall decline to the Eocene/Oligocene transition (EOT, ~34 Ma) and high-amplitude variability (between ~28 and 24 °C) during the Oligo–Miocene. The overall structure of the record is similar to that of the deep-sea record, but a distinct anomaly is also evident. We find no evidence of surface cooling in the North Atlantic directly coinciding with the EOT when Antarctica first became cold enough to sustain large ice sheets and subantarctic waters cooled substantially. Surface ocean cooling during the EOT was therefore strongly asymmetric between hemispheres. This transient thermal decoupling of the North Atlantic Ocean from the southern high latitudes suggests that Antarctic glaciation triggered changes in ocean circulation-driven heat transport and influenced the far-field climate response.

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We dedicate this contribution to M. Pagani. This research used samples provided by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), which is sponsored by the US National Science Foundation and participating countries under management of Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc. We thank the scientists, technicians and support staff of IODP Expedition 342, IODP China and IODP UK for support. This research was supported by National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFE0109500), National Natural Science Foundation of China (41420104008), Chinese Academy of Sciences (QYZDY-SSW-DQC001, ZDBS-SSW-DQC001) (to W.L and Z.L.), Hong Kong Research Grant Council Grant 17303614 (to Z.L.), UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Grant NE/L007452/1 (to S.M.B), NERC Grant NE/K014137/1 (to P.A.W.) and a Royal Society Wolfson award (to P.A.W.). We thank H. Coxall for a thorough and constructive review.

Author information


  1. Department of Earth Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

    • Zhonghui Liu
    •  & Yiqing Jiang
  2. State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi’an, China

    • Zhonghui Liu
    • , Huanye Wang
    •  & Weiguo Liu
  3. School of Earth Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

    • Yuxin He
  4. National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

    • Steven M. Bohaty
    •  & Paul A. Wilson


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P.A.W. and Z.L. participated in IODP Expedition 342 in seagoing capacities. Z.L., S.M.B and P.A.W. conceived the idea of generating a Late Palaeogene temperature record. Y.H. and Y.J. performed alkenone analysis while H.W. and W.L. completed carbonate oxygen isotope work. Z.L. and P.A.W. led the writing of the manuscript with intellectual contributions from all co-authors.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Zhonghui Liu or Paul A. Wilson.

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