The Miocene to Pliocene (Neogene) occurred between 23.04 and 2.58 million years ago and includes intervals of peak global warmth where Earth’s average surface temperature was up to 8℃ warmer than present. Major cooling steps also occurred, across which Antarctica’s ice sheets advanced to the continental shelf for the first time and sea ice expanded across the Southern Ocean. Knowledge of Antarctic environmental change and ice sheet variability through this dynamic period in Earth history has advanced over the past 15 years. Major field and ship-based efforts to obtain new geological information have been completed and significant advances in numerical modelling approaches have occurred. Integration of ice proximal data and coupled climate-ice sheet model outputs with high-resolution reconstructions of ice volume and temperature variability from deep sea δ18O records now offer detailed insight into thresholds and tipping points in Earth’s climate system. Here we review paleoenvironmental data through key episodes in the evolution of Neogene climate to include the Miocene Climatic Optimum (MCO), Middle Miocene Climate Transition (MMCT), Tortonian Thermal Maximum (TTM), Late Miocene Cooling (LMC), and Pliocene Warm Period (PWP). This review shows that Antarctica’s climate and ice sheets remained dynamic throughout the Neogene. Given the analogous nature of warm episodes in the Miocene and Pliocene to future projections, the environmental reconstructions presented in this chapter offer a stark warning about the potential future of the AIS if warming continues at its current rate. If average global surface warming above pre-industrial values exceeds 2℃, a threshold will be crossed and AIS instabilities would likely be irreversible on multi-century timescales.
Hub Contributors: Nick Golledge
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