Past terrestrial hydroclimate sensitivity controlled by Earth system feedbacks

Christian.Stepanek [ at ]


Despite tectonic conditions and atmospheric CO2 levels (pCO2) similar to those of present-day, geological reconstructions from the mid-Pliocene (3.3-3.0 Ma) document high lake levels in the Sahel and mesic conditions in subtropical Eurasia, suggesting drastic reorganizations of subtropical terrestrial hydroclimate during this interval. Here, using a compilation of proxy data and multi-model paleoclimate simulations, we show that the mid-Pliocene hydroclimate state is not driven by direct CO2 radiative forcing but by a loss of northern high-latitude ice sheets and continental greening. These ice sheet and vegetation changes are long-term Earth system feedbacks to elevated pCO2. Further, the moist conditions in the Sahel and subtropical Eurasia during the mid-Pliocene are a product of enhanced tropospheric humidity and a stationary wave response to the surface warming pattern, which varies strongly with land cover changes. These findings highlight the potential for amplified terrestrial hydroclimate responses over long timescales to a sustained CO2 forcing.

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Primary Division
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Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
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DOI 10.1038/s41467-022-28814-7

Cite as
Feng, R. , Bhattacharya, T. , Otto-Bliesner, B. L. , Brady, E. C. , Haywood, A. M. , Tindall, J. C. , Hunter, S. J. , Abe-Ouchi, A. , Chan, W. L. , Kageyama, M. , Contoux, C. , Guo, C. , Li, X. , Lohmann, G. , Stepanek, C. , Tan, N. , Zhang, Q. , Zhang, Z. , Han, Z. , Williams, C. J. R. , Lunt, D. J. , Dowsett, H. J. , Chandan, D. and Peltier, W. R. (2022): Past terrestrial hydroclimate sensitivity controlled by Earth system feedbacks , Nature Communications, 13 (1) . doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-28814-7

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