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Pliocene climate

January 26, 2015

The Pliocene Epoch, 5.3 Ma to 1.8 Ma, was a time when paleoclimate conditions ranged from very warm, equable climates (on a global scale), rhythmically varying every 40,000 years, to high-amplitude glacial-interglacial cycles that led to the “Ice Ages” of the Pleistocene. Evidence for paleoclimate conditions comes from fossils, geochemical data, and the integration of these data with sophisticated numerical models. The Pliocene exhibited a range in atmospheric CO2 concentrations with highs estimated to be at most ~425 ppm in the early Pliocene followed by overall decrease toward preindustrial levels by the close of the Pliocene Epoch (Pagani et al. 2010). Sea levels were estimated to be 25m higher than present day and the size and position of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica were decidedly different from today. On the other hand, by the mid-Pliocene, the majority of fauna and flora as well as continental configurations were basically the same as today. Man’s ability to adapt to or mitigate the effects of future climate require a deep understanding of the rates and magnitude of future climate change on an ever finer scale. Since conditions projected for the end of this century are not in the human experience, we depend upon a combination of numerical climate models and comparison to analogous conditions in the geologic past. The Pliocene contains what might be the closest analog to climate conditions expected in the near future, and therefore understanding the Pliocene is not only of academic interest but essential for human adaptation.