Ancient pool of warm water questions current climate models

April 3, 2013
Earth

A huge pool of warm water that stretched out from Indonesia over to Africa and South America four million years ago suggests climate models might be too conservative in forecasting tropical changes.

Present in the Pliocene era, this giant mass of water would have dramatically altered rainfall in the tropics, possibly even removing the monsoon. Its decay and the consequential drying of East Africa may have been a factor in Hominid evolution.

Published in Nature today, the for this phenomenon could have significant implications when predicting the future climate.

When analysing all the available sea surface temperature records spanning the past five million years, the international team – with academics from UCL and Yale – found that none of the currently proposed mechanisms can account for such conditions in the Pliocene, when tested using a climate model.

"Essentially, we've looked at a warm world in the past and it shows changes in the pattern of tropical . We've analysed all the existing theories to explain this vast pool of ancient , and even in combination they can't explain something as odd as this," said Dr Chris Brierley (UCL Geography), a co-author of the paper.

Occurring between three and five million years ago, the Pliocene was the last time the world was in a steady climate that was warmer, and with a higher than the conditions that existed before the . As a result, it has attracted strong attention as a possible basis for future once carbon dioxide levels have been stabilized.

The three critical conditions that defined the tropical Pliocene climate were:

  • Evidence of the maximum not being much warmer;
  • Reduced east-west temperate differences; and
  • Weaker north-south differences in the tropics.
It is these three conditions that the team say that any future efforts at modelling the past must explain.

"An important question is how much the evidence of climate evolution over the last five million years shapes our assessment of future change. From these observations, it is clear that the climate system is capable of remarkable transformations even with small changes in external parameters such as carbon dioxide," said Dr Brierley.

"Therefore, explaining the discrepancy between model simulations and the early Pliocene temperature patterns is essential for building confidence in our climate projections.

"In many ways, this work on past climates is part of understanding the uncertainty of future climate. It can give us a heads-up of potential climates that we hadn't imagined possible before." added Dr Brierley.

Explore further: Circulation changes in a warmer ocean

More information: The paper, "Patterns and mechanisms of early Pliocene warmth," was published today in the 4 April issue of the journal Nature. dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12003

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11 comments

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tadchem
2.8 / 5 (9) Apr 03, 2013
I wonder how submarine vulcanism in the Indonesian archipelago may have contributed to this warm water.
Maggnus
4.6 / 5 (9) Apr 03, 2013
Ah, no wonder the usual crop of conspiracists aren't all over this one, the story says our current models are too conservative!

Frilla_Poo
3.2 / 5 (11) Apr 03, 2013
I wonder how submarine vulcanism in the Indonesian archipelago may have contributed to this warm water.
Ah, no wonder the usual crop of conspiracists aren't all over this one, the story says our current models are too conservative!

Isn't it obvious. The timeline is all wrong. The Pliocene ended nearly 3 million years ago. The Vulcans would not have had time to develop Warp Drive nor transport submarines across interstellar space. This does not exonerate the "conspiracists" that may still have been involved.

(that should be "conspirators")
SamB
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 03, 2013
What coal fired power plant produced this huge pool of warm water?
Howhot
4.5 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2013
From the article:
A huge pool of warm water that stretched out from Indonesia over to Africa and South America four million years ago suggests climate models might be TOO CONSERVATIVE in forecasting tropical changes.


That sounds about right. The more we collect data, the more it shows that our computer models were too conservative. That doesn't bode well for the future generations.
djr
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
Ah, no wonder the usual crop of conspiracists aren't all over this one, the story says our current models are too conservative!

No complaints here - it has been a very quiet night in terms of posters attacking climate science articles - a very pleasant break - hope it keeps up.
ubavontuba
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
I wonder how submarine vulcanism in the Indonesian archipelago may have contributed to this warm water.

Ah, no wonder the usual crop of conspiracists aren't all over this one, the story says our current models are too conservative!
Isn't it obvious. The timeline is all wrong. The Pliocene ended nearly 3 million years ago. The Vulcans would not have had time to develop Warp Drive nor transport submarines across interstellar space. This does not exonerate the "conspiracists" that may still have been involved.

(that should be "conspirators")
LOL!

Maybe the "conspiracists" are ancient aliens which needed "conspirators" (rhymes with respirators) to survive Earth's Pliocene environment?

katesisco
1.4 / 5 (5) Apr 04, 2013
I admit I don't understand this; the Med was long-term dry until 5 my ago, does this mean the seas were substantially lower? No deep currents to drive cold currents up? No circulation? No gyres?
Howhot
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2013
What we are seeing from measurements now, is that deep ocean are getting warmer. When the Arctic ice melts, a lot of weather will change. Already, the endless snow in the NE kind of hints that a relation exists between Arctic sea ice and snow in the NE.

As the deep oceans warm, ever so slightly, we should see subtle changes in weather patterns too.
wlasley1
3 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2013
It's actually too late to continue wasting time on deniers, they're either too ignorant or psychologically incapable of accepting the science. The CO2 levels are already too high to rely solely upon reducing emissions. We need technologies to cost effectively remove this gas from the atmosphere within the next 50 years. There is a solution, we can change ourselves by improving education enough that every high school graduate understands the basic science. This will prepare students for the information age work, increase science support while decreasing the cost of science research and engineering, and insure that the deniers become an ineffective political minority. Or we can keep on doing what we have been doing like signing petitions, having demonstrations, giving the politicians and environmental organizations money and hope they solve the problems. But it seems that's a lot like doing the same thing we have been doing for the last 50 years and expecting different results; ie crazy.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2013
Present in the Pliocene era, this giant mass of water would have dramatically altered rainfall in the tropics, possibly even removing the monsoon. Its decay and the consequential drying of East Africa may have been a factor in Hominid evolution.

So this warming may have triggered human evolution, while the current one is obviously responsible for the mental retardation of the AGW Alarmist Sect.

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