The Middle Miocene climate as modelled in an atmosphere-ocean-biosphere model
Abstract. We present simulations with a coupled atmosphere-ocean-biosphere model for the Middle Miocene 15 million years ago. The model is insofar more consistent than previous models because it captures the essential interactions between ocean and atmosphere and between atmosphere and vegetation. The Middle Miocene topography, which alters both large-scale ocean and atmospheric circulations, causes a global warming of 0.7 K compared to present day. Higher than present-day CO2 levels of 480 and 720 ppm cause a global warming of 2.8 and 4.9 K. The associated water vapour feedback enhances the greenhouse effect which leads to a polar amplification of the warming. These results suggest that higher than present-day CO2 levels are necessary to drive the warm Middle Miocene climate, also because the dynamic vegetation model simulates a denser vegetation which is in line with fossil records. However, we do not find a flatter than present-day equator-to-pole temperature gradient as has been suggested by marine and terrestrial proxies. Instead, a compensation between atmospheric and ocean heat transport counteracts the flattening of the temperature gradient. The acclaimed role of the large-scale ocean circulation in redistributing heat cannot be supported by our results. Including full ocean dynamics, therefore, does not solve the problem of the flat temperature gradient during the Middle Miocene.