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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 14, issue 6 | Copyright
Clim. Past, 14, 789-810, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 13 Jun 2018

Research article | 13 Jun 2018

Climate sensitivity and meridional overturning circulation in the late Eocene using GFDL CM2.1

David K. Hutchinson1, Agatha M. de Boer1, Helen K. Coxall1, Rodrigo Caballero2, Johan Nilsson2, and Michiel Baatsen3 David K. Hutchinson et al.
  • 1Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2Department of Meteorology, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 3IMAU, Utrecht University, Princetonplein 5, 3584CC Utrecht, the Netherlands

Abstract. The Eocene–Oligocene transition (EOT), which took place approximately 34Ma ago, is an interval of great interest in Earth's climate history, due to the inception of the Antarctic ice sheet and major global cooling. Climate simulations of the transition are needed to help interpret proxy data, test mechanistic hypotheses for the transition and determine the climate sensitivity at the time. However, model studies of the EOT thus far typically employ control states designed for a different time period, or ocean resolution on the order of 3°. Here we developed a new higher resolution palaeoclimate model configuration based on the GFDL CM2.1 climate model adapted to a late Eocene (38Ma) palaeogeography reconstruction. The ocean and atmosphere horizontal resolutions are 1° × 1.5° and 3° × 3.75° respectively. This represents a significant step forward in resolving the ocean geography, gateways and circulation in a coupled climate model of this period. We run the model under three different levels of atmospheric CO2: 400, 800 and 1600ppm. The model exhibits relatively high sensitivity to CO2 compared with other recent model studies, and thus can capture the expected Eocene high latitude warmth within observed estimates of atmospheric CO2. However, the model does not capture the low meridional temperature gradient seen in proxies. Equatorial sea surface temperatures are too high in the model (30–37°C) compared with observations (max 32°C), although observations are lacking in the warmest regions of the western Pacific. The model exhibits bipolar sinking in the North Pacific and Southern Ocean, which persists under all levels of CO2. North Atlantic surface salinities are too fresh to permit sinking (25–30psu), due to surface transport from the very fresh Arctic ( ∼ 20psu), where surface salinities approximately agree with Eocene proxy estimates. North Atlantic salinity increases by 1–2psu when CO2 is halved, and similarly freshens when CO2 is doubled, due to changes in the hydrological cycle.

Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The Eocene--Oligocene transition was a major cooling event 34 million years ago. Climate model studies of this transition have used low ocean resolution or topography that roughly approximates the time period. We present a new climate model simulation of the late Eocene, with higher ocean resolution and topography which is accurately designed for this time period. These features improve the ocean circulation and gateways which are thought to be important for this climate transition.
The Eocene--Oligocene transition was a major cooling event 34 million years ago. Climate model...