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Late Miocene cooling coupled to carbon dioxide with Pleistocene-like climate sensitivity

Abstract

Earth’s climate cooled markedly during the late Miocene from 12 to 5 million years ago, with far-reaching consequences for global ecosystems. However, the driving forces of these changes remain controversial. A major obstacle to progress is the uncertainty over the role played by greenhouse gas radiative forcing. Here we present boron isotope compositions for planktic foraminifera, which record carbon dioxide change for the interval of most rapid cooling, the late Miocene cooling event between 7 and 5 Ma. Our record suggests that CO2 declined by some 100 ppm over this two-million-year-long interval to a minimum at approximately 5.9 Ma. Having accounted for non-CO2 greenhouse gasses and slow climate feedbacks, we estimate global mean surface temperature change for a doubling of CO2—equilibrium climate sensitivity—to be 3.9 °C (1.8–6.7 °C at 95% confidence) on the basis of comparison of our record of radiative forcing from CO2 with a record of global mean surface temperature change. We conclude that changes in CO2 and climate were closely coupled during the latest Miocene and that equilibrium climate sensitivity was within range of estimates for the late Pleistocene, other intervals of the Cenozoic and the twenty-first century as presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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Fig. 1: Neogene and late Miocene climate changes.
Fig. 2: Records of late Miocene climate change.
Fig. 3: Latest Miocene climate sensitivity regression and key climates sensitivity studies throughout the past 70 myr.

Data availability

The experimental data are available at https://doi.org/10.5258/SOTON/D2258.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the staff at the Bremen core repository and the ΙODP for providing sample material. We also thank M. Spencer, B. Hambach, J. A. Milton, M. Cooper, and A. Michalik as well as the rest of the ‘B-team’ for laboratory assistance. This work was supported by Natural Environment Research Council grants NE/P011381/1 to G.L.F., P.A.W. and T.B.C. and NE/L002531/1 to R.M.B., the Leverhulme Trust through support to T.B.C. and the Royal Society (Challenge Grant to P.A.W. and A.J.C.) and Wolfson Merit awards to P.A.W. and G.L.F.

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Contributions

R.M.B. and T.B.C. provided primary data based on their laboratory work. G.L.F., T.B.C. and P.A.W. conceived the project. R.M.B. produced the first draft of the manuscript, and all authors contributed to the final text. R.M.B. performed all statistical data analysis and compiled the data with input from A.J.C. on chronology.

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Correspondence to Rachel M. Brown.

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Nature Geoscience thanks Sarah Feakins, Laura Haynes and Baerbel Hoenisch for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Rebecca Neely, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Map of mean annual ΔCO2 and SST labelled with site locations.

a) Map of mean annual modern ΔCO2 (parts per million, ppm) between surface ocean and the atmosphere with sample site ODP 926 (3° 43’16.49” N and 42° 54’47.83” W, and water depth of 3598 m). Data from ref. 60. b) Map of the sites used to generate the ΔSST stack with mean annual modern SST from Levitus World Ocean Atlas database. See supplementary Table 3 for locations and depths of ΔSST sample sites. Figures constructed and data visualised in Ocean Data View138.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Neogene of T. trilobus δ11B.

Data collected from ODP 926, ODP 1000 (red square), ODP 761 (red diamond) and ODP 872 (red triangle). Error bars represent 2sd.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Sensitivity of atmospheric carbon dioxide and ΔFCO2 estimates to δ11B for seawater.

Reconstructed CO2 (left axis, blue lines) and ΔFCO2 (right axis, orange lines) for time intervals before (6.5 Ma), during (5.9 Ma) and after (5.0 Ma) Late Miocene temperature minimum using modern DIC (Top) at ODP 926 (2027 (±250) µmol kg−1, ref. 108) and Neogene DIC reconstructions (Bottom, ref. 10).

Extended Data Fig. 4 δ13C and δ18O of benthic foraminifera at ODP 926.

top) Stable oxygen isotopes from C.wuellestorfi from ODP926 (red: this study, blue: ref. 109). (bottom) Stable carbon isotopes from C.wuellestorfi (red: this study; blue: ref. 120, yellow: ref. 139).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Age model evaluation for ODP 926.

Previously published high resolution stable carbon isotopes from benthic foraminifera from ODP 926 (bold blue)120, ODP 982 (red)22, IODP U1337 (green)140 and IODP U1338 (pale blue)22.

Extended Data Fig. 6 All ΔSST records using in ΔSST stack.

Alkenone derived ΔSST records used in ΔSST stack. Recalibrated using BAYSPLINE method from ref. 43.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Jackknifing ΔSST stack.

Each ΔSST record is sequentially removed from the stack to ensure that no one record has undue weight on the stack.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Comparison of ΔGMAST stack from ref. 51 with ΔGMAST stack from sample sites.

a) Map of the sites used to generate the ΔGMAST stack with mean annual modern SST from ref. 60 for the Late Miocene and last 100kyr stacks. See Supplementary Table 3 for locations of ΔSST sample sites and references. Figures constructed and data visualised in Ocean Data View138 with modern SST data from Levitis Ocean Atlas Data base. b) ΔGMAST stacked record using the same sites as used in the late Miocene Stack for the last 100 kyr (dark blue error band, 68% of Monte Carlo simulations; light blue error band, 95% of Monte Carlo simulations) and from ref. 51 (dark red error band, 1sd; light red error band, 2sd). Change in LGM ΔGMAST for recent proxy compilation (black dashed line)132.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Μaximum constraints on climate sensitivity.

(Top) Forced alignment between ΔFCO2 (orange) and ΔGMAST stack (blue). Light blue/orange and dark blue/orange represent 95% and 68% uncertainty as calculated in Monte Carlo simulations described in methods for ΔFCO2 and ΔGMAST respectively. (Bottom) SIMEX regression91 of aligned ΔFCO2 and ΔGMAST. Error bars represent 2sd error. Black line represents SIMEX regression. Dashed blue line represent error on SIMEX regression.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–9.

Supplementary Table 1

Reports information relevant to site location, sampling resolution and references to sources of original temperature measurements for late Miocene SST stack.

Supplementary Table 2

Data for stable isotopes (δ11B, δ13C and δ18O), elemental ratios (Al/Ca, Mg/Ca and B/Ca) and pH and CO2 estimates based on δ11B.

Supplementary Table 3

Compilation of key equilibrium climate sensitivity studies.

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Brown, R.M., Chalk, T.B., Crocker, A.J. et al. Late Miocene cooling coupled to carbon dioxide with Pleistocene-like climate sensitivity. Nat. Geosci. 15, 664–670 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00982-7

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