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Amplified surface warming in the south-west Pacific during the mid-Pliocene (3.3–3.0 Ma) and future implications

Grant, Georgia R.; Williams, Jonny H. T.; Naeher, Sebastian; Seki, Osamu; McClymont, Erin L.; Patterson, Molly O.; Haywood, Alan M.; Behrens, Erik; Yamamoto, Masanobu; Johnson, Katelyn

Amplified surface warming in the south-west Pacific during  the mid-Pliocene (3.3–3.0 Ma) and future implications Thumbnail


Georgia R. Grant

Jonny H. T. Williams

Sebastian Naeher

Osamu Seki

Molly O. Patterson

Alan M. Haywood

Erik Behrens

Masanobu Yamamoto

Katelyn Johnson


Based on Nationally Determined Contributions concurrent with Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) 2-4.5, the IPCC predicts global warming of 2.1–3.5 ∘C (very likely range 10–90th percentile) by 2100 CE. However, global average temperature is a poor indicator of regional warming and global climate models (GCMs) require validation with instrumental or proxy data from geological archives to assess their ability to simulate regional ocean and atmospheric circulation, and thus, to evaluate their performance for regional climate projections. The south-west Pacific is a region that performs poorly when GCMs are evaluated against instrumental observations. The New Zealand Earth System Model (NZESM) was developed from the United Kingdom Earth System Model (UKESM) to better understand south-west Pacific response to global change, by including a nested ocean grid in the south-west Pacific with 80 % greater horizontal resolution than the global-scale host.

Here, we reconstruct regional south-west Pacific sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) for the mid-Pliocene warm period (mPWP; 3.3–3.0 Ma), which has been widely considered a past analogue with an equilibrium surface temperature response of +3 ∘C to an atmospheric CO2 concentration of ∼350–400 ppm, in order to assess the warming distribution in the south-west Pacific. This study presents proxy SSTs from seven deep sea sediment cores distributed across the south-west Pacific. Our reconstructed SSTs are derived from molecular biomarkers preserved in the sediment – alkenones (i.e. U index) and isoprenoid glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (i.e. TEX86 index) – and are compared with SSTs reconstructed from the Last Interglacial (125 ka), Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project (PlioMIP) outputs and transient climate model projections (NZESM and UKESM) of low- to high-range SSPs for 2090–2099 CE.

Mean interglacial equilibrium SSTs during the mPWP for the south-west Pacific sites were on average 4.2 ∘C (1.8–6.1 ∘C likely range) above pre-industrial temperatures and show good agreement with model outputs from NZESM and UKESM under mid-range SSP 2–4.6 conditions. These results highlight that not only is the mPWP an appropriate analogue when considering future temperature change in the centuries to come, but they also demonstrate that the south-west Pacific region will experience warming that exceeds that of the global mean if atmospheric CO2 remains above 350 ppm.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 4, 2023
Online Publication Date Jul 13, 2023
Publication Date Jul 4, 2023
Deposit Date Aug 2, 2023
Publicly Available Date Aug 2, 2023
Journal Climate of the Past
Print ISSN 1814-9324
Electronic ISSN 1814-9332
Publisher European Geosciences Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 7
Pages 1359-1381
Keywords Paleontology; Stratigraphy; Global and Planetary Change
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