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Surface temperatures of the Mid-Pliocene North Atlantic Ocean: Implications for future climate

December 31, 2008

The Mid-Pliocene is the most recent interval in the Earth's history to have experienced warming of the magnitude predicted for the second half of the twenty-first century and is, therefore, a possible analogue for future climate conditions. With continents basically in their current positions and atmospheric CO2 similar to early twenty-first century values, the cause of Mid-Pliocene warmth remains elusive. Understanding the behaviour of the North Atlantic Ocean during the Mid-Pliocene is integral to evaluating future climate scenarios owing to its role in deep water formation and its sensitivity to climate change. Under the framework of the Pliocene Research, Interpretation and Synoptic Mapping (PRISM) sea surface reconstruction, we synthesize Mid-Pliocene North Atlantic studies by PRISM members and others, describing each region of the North Atlantic in terms of palaeoceanography. We then relate Mid-Pliocene sea surface conditions to expectations of future warming. The results of the data and climate model comparisons suggest that the North Atlantic is more sensitive to climate change than is suggested by climate model simulations, raising the concern that estimates of future climate change are conservative.