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Modelling the enigmatic Late Pliocene Glacial Event - Marine Isotope Stage M2

May 1, 2015

The Pliocene Epoch (5.2 to 2.58 Ma) has often been targeted to investigate the nature of warm climates. However, climate records for the Pliocene exhibit significant variability and show intervals that apparently experienced a cooler than modern climate. Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) M2 (~ 3.3 Ma) is a globally recognisable cooling event that disturbs an otherwise relatively (compared to present-day) warm background climate state. It remains unclear whether this event corresponds to significant ice sheet build-up in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Estimates of sea level for this interval vary, and range from modern values to estimates of 65 m sea level fall with respect to present day. Here we implement plausible M2 ice sheet configurations into a coupled atmosphere–ocean climate model to test the hypothesis that larger-than-modern ice sheet configurations may have existed at M2. Climate model results are compared with proxy climate data available for M2 to assess the plausibility of each ice sheet configuration. Whilst the outcomes of our data/model comparisons are not in all cases straight forward to interpret, there is little indication that results from model simulations in which significant ice masses have been prescribed in the Northern Hemisphere are incompatible with proxy data from the North Atlantic, Northeast Arctic Russia, North Africa and the Southern Ocean. Therefore, our model results do not preclude the possibility of the existence of larger ice masses during M2 in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. Specifically they are not able to discount the possibility of significant ice masses in the Northern Hemisphere during the M2 event, consistent with a global sea-level fall of between 40 m and 60 m. This study highlights the general need for more focused and coordinated data generation in the future to improve the coverage and consistency in proxy records for M2, which will allow these and future M2 sensitivity tests to be interrogated further.