Modelling ice sheet evolution and atmospheric CO2 during the Late Pliocene

Constantijn J. Berends*, Bas De Boer, Aisling M. Dolan, Daniel J. Hill, Roderik S.W. Van De Wal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In order to investigate the relation between ice sheets and climate in a warmer-than-present world, recent research has focussed on the Late Pliocene, 3.6 to 2.58 million years ago. It is the most recent period in Earth's history when such a warm climate state existed for a significant duration of time. Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) M2 ( ∼ 3:3 Myr ago) is a strong positive excursion in benthic oxygen records in the middle of the otherwise warm and relatively stable Late Pliocene. However, the relative contributions to the benthic d18O signal from deep ocean cooling and growing ice sheets are still uncertain. Here, we present results from simulations of the Late Pliocene with a hybrid ice-sheet-climate model, showing a reconstruction of ice sheet geometry, sea level and atmospheric CO2. Initial experiments simulating the last four glacial cycles indicate that this model yields results which are in good agreement with proxy records in terms of global mean sea level, benthic oxygen isotope abundance, ice-corederived surface temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration. For the Late Pliocene, our results show an atmospheric CO2 concentration during MIS M2 of 233-249 ppmv and a drop in global mean sea level of 10 to 25 m. Uncertainties are larger during the warmer periods leading up to and following MIS M2. CO2 concentrations during the warm intervals in the Pliocene, with sea-level high stands of 8-14 m above the present day, varied between 320 and 400 ppmv, lower than indicated by some proxy records but in line with earlier model reconstructions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1603-1619
Number of pages17
JournalClimate of the Past
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2019


Financial support. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), in the Netherlands, provided financial support for this study via the programme of the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre (NESSC, grant no. 024.002.001). Bas de Boer was funded by NWO Earth and Life Sciences (ALW), project 863.15.019. This work was sponsored by NWO Exact and Natural Sciences for the use of supercomputer facilities. Aisling M. Dolan acknowledges funding from the European Commission under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 278636.

FundersFunder number
Seventh Framework Programme
European Commission
European Research Council278636
Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek863.15.019
Netherlands Earth System Science Centre024.002.001


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