1Laboratory of Atmospheric and Planetary Physics, University of Liège, Liège, Belgium
2Unité de Modélisation du Climat et des Cycles Biogéochimiques, University of Liège, Liège, Belgium
3MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
Abstract. The Middle Miocene was one of the last warm periods of the Neogene, culminating with the Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum (MMCO, approximatively 17–15 Ma). Several proxy-based reconstructions support warmer and more humid climate during the MMCO. The mechanisms responsible for the warmer climate at the MMCO and particularly the role of the atmospheric carbon dioxide are still highly debated. Here we carried out a series of sensitivity experiments with the model of intermediate complexity Planet Simulator, investigating the contributions of the absence of ice on the continents, the opening of the Central American and Eastern Tethys Seaways, the lowering of the topography on land, the effect of various atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the vegetation feedback.
Our results show that a higher than present-day CO2 concentration is necessary to generate a warmer climate at all latitudes at the Middle Miocene, in agreement with the terrestrial proxy reconstructions which suggest high atmospheric CO2 concentrations at the MMCO. Nevertheless, the changes in sea-surface conditions, the lowering of the topography on land and the vegetation feedback also produce significant local warming that may, locally, even be stronger than the CO2 induced temperature increases. The lowering of the topography leads to a more zonal atmospheric circulation and allows the westerly flow to continue over the lowered Plateaus at mid-latitudes. The reduced height of the Tibetan Plateau notably prevents the development of a monsoon-like circulation, whereas the reduction of elevations of the North American and European reliefs strongly increases precipitation from northwestern to eastern Europe.
The changes in vegetation cover contribute to maintain and even to intensify the warm and humid conditions produced by the other factors, suggesting that the vegetation-climate interactions could help to improve the model-data comparison.