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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 6, issue 2 | Copyright
Earth Surf. Dynam., 6, 271-301, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 06 Apr 2018

Research article | 06 Apr 2018

Estimates of late Cenozoic climate change relevant to Earth surface processes in tectonically active orogens

Sebastian G. Mutz1, Todd A. Ehlers1, Martin Werner2, Gerrit Lohmann2, Christian Stepanek2, and Jingmin Li1,a Sebastian G. Mutz et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University Tübingen, 72074 Tübingen, Germany
  • 2Department of Paleoclimate Dynamics, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany
  • anow at: Institute for Geography and Geology, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, 97074 Germany

Abstract. The denudation history of active orogens is often interpreted in the context of modern climate gradients. Here we address the validity of this approach and ask what are the spatial and temporal variations in palaeoclimate for a latitudinally diverse range of active orogens? We do this using high-resolution (T159, ca. 80 × 80km at the Equator) palaeoclimate simulations from the ECHAM5 global atmospheric general circulation model and a statistical cluster analysis of climate over different orogens (Andes, Himalayas, SE Alaska, Pacific NW USA). Time periods and boundary conditions considered include the Pliocene (PLIO,  ∼ 3Ma), the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM,  ∼ 21ka), mid-Holocene (MH,  ∼ 6ka), and pre-industrial (PI, reference year 1850). The regional simulated climates of each orogen are described by means of cluster analyses based on the variability in precipitation, 2m air temperature, the intra-annual amplitude of these values, and monsoonal wind speeds where appropriate. Results indicate the largest differences in the PI climate existed for the LGM and PLIO climates in the form of widespread cooling and reduced precipitation in the LGM and warming and enhanced precipitation during the PLIO. The LGM climate shows the largest deviation in annual precipitation from the PI climate and shows enhanced precipitation in the temperate Andes and coastal regions for both SE Alaska and the US Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, LGM precipitation is reduced in the western Himalayas and enhanced in the eastern Himalayas, resulting in a shift of the wettest regional climates eastward along the orogen. The cluster-analysis results also suggest more climatic variability across latitudes east of the Andes in the PLIO climate than in other time slice experiments conducted here. Taken together, these results highlight significant changes in late Cenozoic regional climatology over the last  ∼ 3Myr. Comparison of simulated climate with proxy-based reconstructions for the MH and LGM reveal satisfactory to good performance of the model in reproducing precipitation changes, although in some cases discrepancies between neighbouring proxy observations highlight contradictions between proxy observations themselves. Finally, we document regions where the largest magnitudes of late Cenozoic changes in precipitation and temperature occur and offer the highest potential for future observational studies that quantify the impact of climate change on denudation and weathering rates.

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Short summary
We use a climate model and statistics to provide an overview of regional climates from different times in the late Cenozoic. We focus on tectonically active mountain ranges in particular. Our results highlight significant changes in climates throughout the late Cenozoic, which should be taken into consideration when interpreting erosion rates. We also document the differences between model- and proxy-based estimates for late Cenozoic climate change in South America and Tibet.
We use a climate model and statistics to provide an overview of regional climates from different...