Sensitivity of mid-Pliocene climate to changes in orbital forcing, and PlioMIP's boundary conditions

Samakinwa, Eric; Stepanek, Christian; Lohmann, Gerrit (2020). Sensitivity of mid-Pliocene climate to changes in orbital forcing, and PlioMIP's boundary conditions (In Press). Climate of the past discussions Copernicus Publications 10.5194/cp-2020-5

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In this study, we compare results obtained from modelling the mid-Pliocene warm period using the Community Earth System Models (COSMOS, version: COSMOS-landveg r2413, 2009) with the two different modelling methodologies and sets of boundary conditions prescribed for the two phases of the Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project (PlioMIP), tagged PlioMIP1 and PlioMIP2. Boundary conditions, model forcing, and modelling methodology for the two phases of PlioMIP differ considerably in palaeogeography, in particular with regards to the state of ocean gateways, ice-masks, treatment of vegetation and topography. Further differences between model setups as suggested for PlioMIP1 and PlioMIP2 consider updates to the concentration of trace gases: atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), is specified as 405 and 400 parts per million by volume (ppmv) for PlioMIP1 and PlioMIP2, respectively. There are also minor differences in the concentrations of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) due to changes in the protocol of the Paleoclimate Model Intercomparison Project (PMIP) from phase 3 to phase 4. Employing a single model across two phases of PlioMIP enables a better understanding of the impact that the various differences in modelling methodology between PlioMIP1 and PlioMIP2 have on model output. Yet, a dedicated comparison of COSMOS model output of PlioMIP1 and PlioMIP2 is not in the curriculum of model analyses proposed in PlioMIP2. Here, we bridge the gap between our contributions to PlioMIP1 (Stepanek and Lohmann, 2012) and PlioMIP2 (Stepanek et al., 2020). We highlight some of the effects that differences in the chosen mid-Pliocene model setup (PlioMIP2 vs. PlioMIP1) have on the climate state as derived with the COSMOS, as this information will be valuable in the framework of the model-model and model-data-comparison within PlioMIP2. We evaluate the model sensitivity to improved mid-Pliocene boundary conditions using PlioMIP's core mid-Pliocene experiments for PlioMIP1 and PlioMIP2, and present further simulations where we test model sensitivity to variations in palaeogeography, orbit and concentration of CO2. Firstly, we highlight major changes in boundary conditions from PlioMIP1 to PlioMIP2 and also the challenges recorded from the initial effort. The results derived from our simulations show that COSMOS simulates a mid-Pliocene climate state that is 0.29 K colder in PlioMIP2, if compared to PlioMIP1 (17.82 °C in PlioMIP1, 17.53 °C in PlioMIP2, values based on simulated surface skin temperature). On one hand, high-latitude warming, which is supported by proxy evidence of the mid-Pliocene, is underestimated in simulations of both PlioMIP1 and PlioMIP2. On the other hand, spatial variations in surface air temperature (SAT), sea surface temperature (SST) as well as the distribution of sea ice suggest improvement of simulated SAT and SST in PlioMIP2 if employing the updated palaeogeography. Our PlioMIP2 mid-Pliocene simulation produces warmer SSTs in the Arctic and North Atlantic Ocean than derived from the respective PlioMIP1 climate state. The difference in prescribed CO2 accounts for 1.1 K of warming in the Arctic, leading to an ice-free summer in the PlioMIP1 simulation, and a quasi ice-free summer in PlioMIP2. Beyond the official set of PlioMIP2 simulations, we present further simulations and analyses that sample the phase space of potential alternative orbital forcings that have acted during the Pliocene and may have impacted on geological records. Employing orbital forcing, which differ from that proposed for PlioMIP2 (i.e. corresponding to Pre-Industrial conditions) but falls into the Mid-Pliocene time period targeted in the PlioMIP, leads to pronounced annual and seasonal temperature variations, which are not directly retrievable from the marine and terrestrial reconstruction of the time-slice.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Climatology
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

Graduate School:

Graduate School of Climate Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Samakinwa, Eric Kayode


900 History > 910 Geography & travel




Copernicus Publications




André Hürzeler

Date Deposited:

31 Jan 2020 13:25

Last Modified:

31 Jan 2020 13:25

Publisher DOI:





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