Temperature gradients across the Pacific Ocean during the middle Miocene

Fox, Lyndsey R., Wade, Bridget S., Holbourn, Ann, Leng, Melanie J. and Bhatia, Rehemat (2021) Temperature gradients across the Pacific Ocean during the middle Miocene. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 36(6), e2020PA003924. ISSN (online) 2572-4525


Abstract: Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) of the tropical Pacific Ocean exert powerful controls on regional and global climates. Previous studies have suggested that during warm climate phases, the east‐west temperature gradient collapsed. To date, there has been no high‐resolution reconstruction of sea surface conditions in both the east and west Pacific Ocean during the Miocene Climate Optimum (MCO) and across the middle Miocene climate transition (MMCT); therefore, our understanding of the mean oceanographic state during this major global climatic shift is limited. Here, we present new SST reconstructions for the eastern Pacific Ocean (15.5–13.3 Ma) which show a clear east‐west temperature gradient of ∼4°C during the warmest interval of the Neogene, implying that the oceanographic processes that produce the modern gradient were present and active. There is no shift in the east‐west gradient across the MMCT indicating that the gradient was not impacted by global cooling and ice growth. We find a 2°C sea surface cooling in the eastern equatorial Pacific, that lags the benthic foraminiferal δ18O positive shift by 150 kyr, indicating that tropical temperature did not decrease synchronously with the expansion of the Antarctic ice sheet. Reconstructed variations in the δ18O composition of seawater, determined by combining our Mg/Ca and δ18O records, reveal a freshening in the eastern Pacific Ocean after 13.8 Ma, suggesting changes in the hydrological cycle and in tropical fronts in response to the new icehouse regime.

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