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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  18 May 2020

18 May 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal CP.

The Eocene-Oligocene transition: a review of marine and terrestrial proxy data, models and model-data comparisons

David K. Hutchinson1, Helen K. Coxall1, Daniel J. Lunt2, Margret Steinthorsdottir1,3, Agatha M. de Boer1, Michiel Baatsen4, Anna von der Heydt4,5, Matthew Huber6, Alan T. Kennedy-Asser2, Lutz Kunzmann7, Jean-Baptiste Ladant8, Caroline H. Lear9, Karolin Moraweck7, Paul N. Pearson9, Emanuela Piga9, Matthew J. Pound10, Ulrich Salzmann10, Howie D. Scher11, Willem P. Sijp12, Kasia K. Śliwińska13, Paul A. Wilson14, and Zhongshi Zhang15,16 David K. Hutchinson et al.
  • 1Department of Geological Sciences and Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University,Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, UK
  • 3Department of Palaeobiology, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 4Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Department of Physics, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 5Centre for Complex Systems Studies, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 6Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, USA
  • 7Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden, Germany
  • 8Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Michigan, USA
  • 9School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  • 10Department of Geographyand Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University, UK
  • 11School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment, University of South Carolina, USA
  • 12Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • 13Department of Stratigraphy, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 14University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, UK
  • 15Department of Atmospheric Science, China University of Geoscience, Wuhan, China
  • 16NORCE Research and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway

Abstract. The Eocene-Oligocene transition (EOT) from a largely ice-free greenhouse world to an icehouse climate with the first major glaciation of Antarctica was a phase of major climate and environmental change occurring ~34 million years ago (Ma) and lasting ~500 kyr. The change is marked by a global shift in deep sea δ18O representing a combination of deep-ocean cooling and global ice sheet growth. At the same time, multiple independent proxies for sea surface temperature indicate a surface ocean cooling, and major changes in global fauna and flora record a shift toward more cold-climate adapted species. The major explanations of this transition that have been suggested are a decline in atmospheric CO2, and changes to ocean gateways, while orbital forcing likely influenced the precise timing of the glaciation. This work reviews and synthesises proxy evidence of paleogeography, temperature, ice sheets, ocean circulation, and CO2 change from the marine and terrestrial realms. Furthermore, we quantitatively compare proxy records of change to an ensemble of model simulations of temperature change across the EOT. The model simulations compare three forcing mechanisms across the EOT: CO2 decrease, paleogeographic changes, and ice sheet growth. We find that CO2 forcing provides by far the best explanation of the combined proxy evidence, and based on our model ensemble, we estimate that a CO2 decrease of about 1.6× across the EOT (e.g. from 910 to 560  ppmv) achieves the best fit to the temperature change recorded in the proxies. This model-derived CO2 decrease is consistent with proxy estimates of CO2 decline at the EOT.

David K. Hutchinson et al.

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David K. Hutchinson et al.

David K. Hutchinson et al.


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Short summary
The Eocene-Oligocene transition was a major climate cooling event from a largely ice-free world to the first major glaciation of Antarctica, approximately 34 million years ago. This paper reviews observed changes in temperature, CO2 and ice sheets from marine and land based records at this time. We present a new model-data comparison of this transition, and find that CO2-forced cooling provides the best explanation of the observed global temperature changes.
The Eocene-Oligocene transition was a major climate cooling event from a largely ice-free world...