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Science. 2009 Mar 27;323(5922):1714-8. doi: 10.1126/science.1167625. Epub 2009 Feb 26.

Greatly expanded tropical warm pool and weakened Hadley circulation in the early Pliocene.

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  • 1Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


The Pliocene warm interval has been difficult to explain. We reconstructed the latitudinal distribution of sea surface temperature around 4 million years ago, during the early Pliocene. Our reconstruction shows that the meridional temperature gradient between the equator and subtropics was greatly reduced, implying a vast poleward expansion of the ocean tropical warm pool. Corroborating evidence indicates that the Pacific temperature contrast between the equator and 32 degrees N has evolved from approximately 2 degrees C 4 million years ago to approximately 8 degrees C today. The meridional warm pool expansion evidently had enormous impacts on the Pliocene climate, including a slowdown of the atmospheric Hadley circulation and El NiƱo-like conditions in the equatorial region. Ultimately, sustaining a climate state with weak tropical sea surface temperature gradients may require additional mechanisms of ocean heat uptake (such as enhanced ocean vertical mixing).

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