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PRISM marine sites—The history of PRISM sea surface temperature estimation

September 19, 2018

For more than three decades, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Pliocene Research, Interpretation and Synoptic Mapping (PRISM) Project has compiled paleoenvironmental data with the goal of reconstructing global conditions during the warm interval in the middle of the Piacenzian Age of the Pliocene Epoch (about 3.3 to 3.0 million years ago). Because this is the most recent interval of time in which climatic conditions were similar to those expected in the near future, a global reconstruction of conditions from this interval offers an imperfect yet useful representation of near future conditions. PRISM reconstructions have been used extensively as boundary conditions in general circulation model experiments aimed at better understanding Pliocene climate. They have also served as hindcasting targets when testing the ability of climate models to simulate real climates of the past, an exercise in estimating a model’s ability to accurately predict future climate. As data coverage has grown and model precision has improved, PRISM datasets have become important validation tools for pinpointing discrete areas of data-model disagreement and model-model disagreement. The Pliocene sea surface temperature (SST) dataset is the best developed component of the PRISM reconstructions and is the keystone of Pliocene paleoclimate research. For the first time, we compile all data related to PRISM SST estimation. This discussion chronicles the history of PRISM SST research as it evolved, responding to advances in paleochronology and paleotemperature estimation. Paleoclimatic considerations unique to each location are illustrated, as are any new developments since the initial publication of the data.