Clim. Past Discuss., 9, 1703-1734, 2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed
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This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Climate of the Past (CP). Please refer to the corresponding final paper in CP.
On the effect of orbital forcing on mid-Pliocene climate, vegetation and ice sheets
M. Willeit, A. Ganopolski, and G. Feulner
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany

Abstract. We present results from modeling of the mid-Pliocene warm period (3.3–3 million years ago) using the Earth system model of intermediate complexity CLIMBER-2 analyzing the effect of changes in boundary conditions as well as of orbital forcing on climate.

Firstly we performed equilibrium experiments following PlioMIP (Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project) protocol with a CO2 concentration of 405 ppm, reconstructed mid-Pliocene orography and vegetation and a present day orbital configuration. Simulated global Pliocene warming is about 2.5 °C, fully consistent with results of atmosphere-ocean general circulation model simulations performed for the same modeling setup. A factor separation analysis attributes 1.5 °C warming to CO2, 0.3 °C to orography, 0.2 °C to ice sheets and 0.4 °C to vegetation.

Transient simulations for the entire mid-Pliocene warm period with time-dependent orbital forcing as well as interactive ice sheets and vegetation give a global warming varying within the range 1.9–2.8 °C. Ice sheet and vegetation feedbacks in synergy act as amplifiers of the orbital forcing transforming seasonal insolation variations into an annual mean temperature signal. The effect of orbital forcing is more significant at high latitudes, especially during summer, when the warming over land varies in the wide range from 0–10 °C. The modeled ice sheet extent and vegetation distribution also show significant temporal variations. Modeled and reconstructed data for Northern Hemisphere sea surface temperatures and vegetation distribution show the best agreement if the reconstructions are assumed to be representative for the "warmest" periods during the orbital cycles. This suggests that low-resolution Pliocene paleoclimate reconstructions can reflect not only the impact of increased CO2 concentrations and topography changes but also the effect of orbital forcing. Therefore, the climate (Earth system) sensitivity estimates from Pliocene reconstructions which do not account for the effect of orbital forcing can be biased toward high values.

Citation: Willeit, M., Ganopolski, A., and Feulner, G.: On the effect of orbital forcing on mid-Pliocene climate, vegetation and ice sheets, Clim. Past Discuss., 9, 1703-1734, doi:10.5194/cpd-9-1703-2013, 2013.
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