1Key Laboratory of Cenozoic Geology and Environment, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, P.O. Box 9825, 100029 Beijing, China
2Shandong Institute and Laboratory of Geological Sciences, 250013 Jinan, China
3Nansen-Zhu International Research Center, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100029 Beijing, China
4State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, P.O. Box 17, 710075 Xian, China
Abstract. The global climate system has experienced a series of drastic changes during the Cenozoic. These include the climate transformation in Asia, from a zonal pattern to a monsoon-dominant pattern, the disappearance of subtropical aridity related to a planetary circulation system and the onset of inland deserts in central Asia. Despite of the major advances in the last two decades in characterizing and understanding these climate phenomena, disagreements persist relative to the timing, behaviors and underlying causes.
This paper addresses these issues mainly based on two lines of evidence. Firstly, we newly collected the available Cenozoic geological indicators of environment in China to compile the paleoenvironmental maps of ten intervals with a more detailed examination within the Oligocene and Miocene. In confirming the earlier observation that a zonal climate pattern was transformed into a monsoonal one, the new maps within the Miocene indicate that this major change was achieved by the early Miocene, roughly consistent with the onset of loess deposition in China. Although a monsoon-like regime would have existed in the Eocene, it was restricted in the tropical-subtropical regions. The observed latitudinal oscillations of the climate zones during the Paleogene are likely attributable to the imbalanced evolution of polar ice-sheets between the two hemispheres.
Secondly, we examine the relevant depositional and soil-forming processes of the Miocene loess-soil sequences to determine the circulation characteristics with special emphasis given to the early Miocene. Continuous eolian deposition in the middle reaches of the Yellow River since the early Miocene firmly indicates the formation of inland deserts, which has been constantly maintained in the past 22 Ma. Inter-section grain-size gradients indicate northerly dust-carrying winds and source location, as is regarded as the main criteria of the Asian winter monsoon system. Meanwhile, the well-developed Luvisols evidence the existence of circulations from the ocean, which brought moisture to northern China. These imply the coexistence of two kinds of circulations, one from the ocean as moisture carrier and another from the inland deserts as dust transporter. The accretionary properties of the early Miocene paleosols, resulted from interactive soil-forming and dust deposition processes, evidence two seasonally alternative circulations, i.e. a monsoonal climate regime. The much stronger development of the early Miocene soils compared to those in the Quaternary loess indicates significantly stronger summer monsoons.
These lines of evidence indicate a joint change in circulations and inland aridity by the early Miocene, and suggest a dynamic linkage of them. Our recent numerical experiments reconfirm the potential roles of Tibetan uplift and Paratethys shrinkage in triggering this major climate reorganization, as revealed in peer studies, but yielded more details about their combined scenarios. These two factors would have coacted with the help of South China Sea spreading. Although the realistic effects of each factor remain to be further discriminated, probably through more paleoaltimetrical and tectonic approaches, the Miocene loess record provides a vital insight that tectonics had evolved to a threshold by the early Miocene to cause this major climate reorganization in Asia.