1Institute for Geosciences, University of Kiel, 24098 Kiel, Germany
2Institute for Geology and Paleontology, University of Innsbruck, 6020, Austria
3MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences and Faculty of Geosciences, University of Bremen, 28334 Bremen, Germany
4College of Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis OR 97331-5503, USA
* Invited contribution by M. Sarnthein, EGU Milutin Milankovic Medal winner 2006
Abstract. A major tipping point of Earth's history occurred during the mid-Pliocene: the onset of major Northern Hemisphere Glaciation (NHG) and pronounced, Quaternary-style cycles of glacial-to-interglacial climates, that contrast with more uniform climates over most of the preceding Cenozoic, that and continue until today. The severe deterioration of climate occurred in three steps between 3.2 Ma (warm MIS K3) and 2.7 Ma (glacial MIS G6/4). Various models and paleoceanographic records (intercalibrated using orbital age control) suggest clear linkages between the onset of NHG and three steps in the final closure of the Central American Seaways (CAS), deduced from rising salinity differences between Caribbean and East Pacific. Each closing event led to enhanced North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and strengthened the poleward transport of salt and heat (warmings of +2–3°C). Also, the closing resulted in a slight rise in the poleward atmospheric moisture transport to northwestern Eurasia, which led to enhanced precipitation and fluvial run-off, lower sea surface salinity (SSS), and increased sea-ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, hence promoting albedo and the build-up of continental ice sheets. Most important, the closing of CAS led to greater steric height of the North Pacific and thus doubled the low-saline Arctic Throughflow from the Bering Strait to the East Greenland Current (EGC). Accordingly, Labrador Sea IODP Site 1307 displays an abrupt but irreversible EGC cooling of 6°C and freshening by ~1 psu from 3.16–3.00 Ma, right after the first but still reversible attempt of closing the CAS.