A Paleolatitude Calculator for Paleoclimate Studies

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 10;10(6):e0126946. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126946. eCollection 2015.

Abstract

Realistic appraisal of paleoclimatic information obtained from a particular location requires accurate knowledge of its paleolatitude defined relative to the Earth's spin-axis. This is crucial to, among others, correctly assess the amount of solar energy received at a location at the moment of sediment deposition. The paleolatitude of an arbitrary location can in principle be reconstructed from tectonic plate reconstructions that (1) restore the relative motions between plates based on (marine) magnetic anomalies, and (2) reconstruct all plates relative to the spin axis using a paleomagnetic reference frame based on a global apparent polar wander path. Whereas many studies do employ high-quality relative plate reconstructions, the necessity of using a paleomagnetic reference frame for climate studies rather than a mantle reference frame appears under-appreciated. In this paper, we briefly summarize the theory of plate tectonic reconstructions and their reference frames tailored towards applications of paleoclimate reconstruction, and show that using a mantle reference frame, which defines plate positions relative to the mantle, instead of a paleomagnetic reference frame may introduce errors in paleolatitude of more than 15° (>1500 km). This is because mantle reference frames cannot constrain, or are specifically corrected for the effects of true polar wander. We used the latest, state-of-the-art plate reconstructions to build a global plate circuit, and developed an online, user-friendly paleolatitude calculator for the last 200 million years by placing this plate circuit in three widely used global apparent polar wander paths. As a novelty, this calculator adds error bars to paleolatitude estimates that can be incorporated in climate modeling. The calculator is available at www.paleolatitude.org. We illustrate the use of the paleolatitude calculator by showing how an apparent wide spread in Eocene sea surface temperatures of southern high latitudes may be in part explained by a much wider paleolatitudinal distribution of sites than previously assumed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Climate*
  • Paleontology*

Grant support

DJJvH and AS acknowledge the ERC for Starting Grants, numbers 306810 (SINK) and 259627 (DINOPRO), respectively. DJJvH is supported through NWO Vidi grant no 864.11.004. PKB acknowledges NWO Veni grant no 863.13.002. WS acknowledges support of the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme, project number 223272. This paper contributes to the ESF EUROCORES program TOPO-EUROPE. AS thanks the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre (NESSC) for funding paleoclimate sensitivity science. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.