Increased seasonality through the Eocene to Oligocene transition in northern high latitudes

Nature. 2009 Jun 18;459(7249):969-73. doi: 10.1038/nature08069.


A profound global climate shift took place at the Eocene-Oligocene transition ( approximately 33.5 million years ago) when Cretaceous/early Palaeogene greenhouse conditions gave way to icehouse conditions. During this interval, changes in the Earth's orbit and a long-term drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations resulted in both the growth of Antarctic ice sheets to approximately their modern size and the appearance of Northern Hemisphere glacial ice. However, palaeoclimatic studies of this interval are contradictory: although some analyses indicate no major climatic changes, others imply cooler temperatures, increased seasonality and/or aridity. Climatic conditions in high northern latitudes over this interval are particularly poorly known. Here we present northern high-latitude terrestrial climate estimates for the Eocene to Oligocene interval, based on bioclimatic analysis of terrestrially derived spore and pollen assemblages preserved in marine sediments from the Norwegian-Greenland Sea. Our data indicate a cooling of approximately 5 degrees C in cold-month (winter) mean temperatures to 0-2 degrees C, and a concomitant increased seasonality before the Oi-1 glaciation event. These data indicate that a cooling component is indeed incorporated in the delta(18)O isotope shift across the Eocene-Oligocene transition. However, the relatively warm summer temperatures at that time mean that continental ice on East Greenland was probably restricted to alpine outlet glaciers.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Climate*
  • Geologic Sediments / analysis
  • Greenland
  • History, Ancient
  • Ice Cover
  • Norway
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Pollen
  • Seasons*
  • Spores
  • Temperature*