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Emergence of the modern global monsoon from the Pangaea megamonsoon set by palaeogeography


Geologic evidence and palaeoclimate simulations have indicated the existence of an extensive, interconnected megamonsoon system over the Pangaea supercontinent. However, the ways in which subsequent continental break-up about 180 million years ago and reassembly in the Cenozoic, as well as large global climatic fluctuations, influenced the transition to the modern global monsoon system are uncertain. Here we use a large set of simulations of global climate every 10 million years over the past 250 million years to show that the monsoon system evolved in three stages due to changes in palaeogeography: a spatially extensive land monsoon with weak precipitation in the Triassic period (>170 Ma), a smaller land monsoon with intense precipitation in the Cretaceous period (170–70 Ma) and a return to a broader, weaker monsoon in the Cenozoic era (<70 Ma). It is found that global-mean temperature variations have little impact on global land-monsoon area and intensity over tectonic timescales. Applying an analysis of atmospheric energetics, we show that these variations of the global land monsoon are governed by continental area, latitudinal location and fragmentation.

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Fig. 1: Global monsoon domains defined by the monsoon precipitation index1,2.
Fig. 2: Time series of global land-monsoon area and land-monsoon intensity.
Fig. 3: Energetics governing the influence of continental configuration on monsoon area.
Fig. 4: Circulation and energetics governing the evolution of land-monsoon intensity.

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This work is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, under grant 41888101. Simulations are conducted at the High-performance Computing Platform of Peking University.

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Authors and Affiliations



Y.H. and Z.G. designed the research. X.L., J.G., J.L., Q.L., J.Z., S.Y., Q.W. and J.H. performed simulations. X.B. analysed proxy data of coals and evaporates. Y.H. and W.R.B. wrote the paper. All authors participated in analysis of results.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Yongyun Hu or Zhengtang Guo.

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Nature Geoscience thanks David McGee, Masayuki Ikeda and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: James Super, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Maps of global monsoon domains and annual-mean precipitation in 26 control simulations.

Panels az present global monsoon domains and dry regions corresponding to the 26 control simulations. Global monsoon domains are defined with the monsoon precipitation index (MPI), and the dry areas are defined as the local summer precipitation less than 1 mm yr–1 (ref. 1,2). Monsoon domains are labeled with green, and dry areas are labeled with yellow. Arrows denote 850 hPa winds averaged over June-July-August (JJA). Blue and red dots denote coals and land-evaporites, respectively.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Time series of global land-monsoon area and land-monsoon intensity.

Solid lines are for control simulations, and thin dashed lines are for sensitivity simulations with fixed CO2 concentration and solar constant. Blue lines: global land-monsoon area as the percent of total continental area (left axis), and orange lines: annual-mean precipitation averaged over land-monsoon domains (right axis, mm yr–1).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Correlations of global land-monsoon area and precipitation with continental fragmentation, area, and mean-latitude.

a, Land-monsoon area with continental fragmentation; b, land-monsoon area with continental mean-latitude; c, land-monsoon area with total continental area. The left vertical axis of plots a–c is the percentage of global land-monsoon area to Earth’s surface area. d, Annual-mean land-monsoon precipitation with continental fragmentation.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Time series of land-monsoon precipitation intensity, relative MSE averaged over the land-monsoon domain, and relative MSE averaged over land-monsoon within 15° S – 15° N.

The land monsoon intensity (blue line) is the same as in Fig. 4d. Relative MSE is shown averaged over the global land-monsoon domain (orange) and only over the land-monsoon domain within 15° of the equator (green); both of these are standardized by subtracting their time-mean values and normalizing by their temporal standard deviation.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Circulation and energetics governing the evolution of land-monsoon intensity.

Same as Fig. 4a–c, except for boreal and austral summer-mean relative moist static energy (MSE). Left panels: boreal summer, and right panels: austral summer. From top to bottom, the panels correspond to 240 Ma, 80 Ma, and pre-industrial.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Monsoon domains and annual-mean precipitation in idealized simulations for idealized continental configurations.

Left panels, supercontinent A has side lengths of 45° in latitude and 120° in longitude. In the panels from top to bottom, the southern boundary of the supercontinent is set at the equator, 10 °N, 20 °N, and 30 °N, respectively. Right panels: same as left panels, except that the supercontinent is separated into three plates. Continent B has a longitudinal length of 80°, and continents C and D have longitudinal length of 20°. Green colors denote monsoon domains, and yellow color denotes dry areas.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Relative MSE for the idealized simulations.

Color shading indicates relative MSE (in J/g), orange contours denote surface temperatures, which start at 26 °C with contour interval of 4 °C. Continents are outlined in yellow, with geometries as described in Extended Data Fig. 6.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Land-monsoon precipitation intensity in idealized simulations.

Legends of continents are labeled in the upper-right corner of the plot.

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Hu, Y., Li, X., Boos, W.R. et al. Emergence of the modern global monsoon from the Pangaea megamonsoon set by palaeogeography. Nat. Geosci. 16, 1041–1046 (2023).

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