Implications of seawater Mg/Ca variability for Plio-Pleistocene tropical climate reconstruction

Martín Medina-Elizalde, David W. Lea, Matthew S. Fantle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Recent reconstructions of Mg and Ca concentrations of seawater indicate that seawater Mg/Ca changed significantly over the last 5 million years (Ma). Tropical sea surface temperature (SST) records for the last 5 Ma based on foraminiferal Mg/Ca paleothermometry assume constant seawater Mg/Ca. These SST records suggest that average equatorial Pacific SSTs remained thermally stable from 5 to 2 Ma, after which significant cooling occurred only in the eastern equatorial Pacific. This study examines the implications of adjusting available equatorial Pacific SST records based on Mg/Ca paleothermometry to account for the inferred past variations of seawater Mg/Ca. The results suggest that both the cold and the warm regions of the equatorial Pacific were much warmer during the early Pliocene (30-31 °C), and that both regions experienced a marked cooling from ∼ 4 Ma to ∼ 1 Ma. This new interpretation of foraminiferal Mg/Ca creates a discrepancy with alkenone unsaturation-based SST records from the eastern equatorial Pacific, which might be due to either overestimation of changes in past seawater Mg/Ca or to factors affecting the interpretation of the UK' 37 index. The adjusted SST records are consistent with the hypothesis that higher levels of greenhouse gases maintained the warmth of the early Pliocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)585-595
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - May 30 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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