Evaluation of Arctic warming in mid-Pliocene climate simulations

Christian.Stepanek [ at ] awi.de


Palaeoclimate simulations improve our understanding of the climate, inform us about the performance of climate models in a different climate scenario, and help to identify robust features of the climate system. Here, we analyse Arctic warming in an ensemble of 16 simulations of the mid-Pliocene Warm Period (mPWP), derived from the Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project Phase 2 (PlioMIP2). The PlioMIP2 ensemble simulates Arctic (60–90 °N) annual mean surface air temperature (SAT) increases of 3.7 to 11.6 °C compared to the pre-industrial period, with a multi-model mean (MMM) increase of 7.2 °C. The Arctic warming amplification ratio relative to global SAT anomalies in the ensemble ranges from 1.8 to 3.1 (MMM is 2.3). Sea ice extent anomalies range from −3.0 to −10.4×106 km2, with a MMM anomaly of −5.6×106 km2, which constitutes a decrease of 53 % compared to the pre-industrial period. The majority (11 out of 16) of models simulate summer sea-ice-free conditions (≤1×106 km2) in their mPWP simulation. The ensemble tends to underestimate SAT in the Arctic when compared to available reconstructions, although the degree of underestimation varies strongly between the simulations. The simulations with the highest Arctic SAT anomalies tend to match the proxy dataset in its current form better. The ensemble shows some agreement with reconstructions of sea ice, particularly with regard to seasonal sea ice. Large uncertainties limit the confidence that can be placed in the findings and the compatibility of the different proxy datasets. We show that while reducing uncertainties in the reconstructions could decrease the SAT data–model discord substantially, further improvements are likely to be found in enhanced boundary conditions or model physics. Lastly, we compare the Arctic warming in the mPWP to projections of future Arctic warming and find that the PlioMIP2 ensemble simulates greater Arctic amplification than CMIP5 future climate simulations and an increase instead of a decrease in Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) strength compared to pre-industrial period. The results highlight the importance of slow feedbacks in equilibrium climate simulations, and that caution must be taken when using simulations of the mPWP as an analogue for future climate change.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Research Networks
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.5194/cp-16-2325-2020

Cite as
de Nooijer, W. , Zhang, Q. , Li, Q. , Zhang, Q. , Li, X. , Zhang, Z. , Guo, C. , Nisancioglu, K. H. , Haywood, A. M. , Tindall, J. C. , Hunter, S. J. , Dowsett, H. J. , Stepanek, C. , Lohmann, G. , Otto-Bliesner, B. L. , Feng, R. , Sohl, L. E. , Chandler, M. A. , Tan, N. , Contoux, C. , Ramstein, G. , Baatsen, M. L. J. , von der Heydt, A. S. , Chandan, D. , Peltier, W. R. , Abe-Ouchi, A. , Chan, W. L. , Kamae, Y. and Brierley, C. M. (2020): Evaluation of Arctic warming in mid-Pliocene climate simulations , Climate of the Past, 16 (6), pp. 2325-2341 . doi: 10.5194/cp-16-2325-2020

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Geographical region

Research Platforms


Edit Item Edit Item