• An investigation into the seasonality of the Pliocene southern North Sea basin: a sclerochronological approach

      Johnson, Andrew L. A.; Leng, Melanie J.; Balson, Peter S.; Valentine, Annemarie (University of Derby, 2014-02-19)
      The Pliocene world c. 5.3 Ma to c. 2.58 Ma exhibited a relatively stable climate with a warmer global mean surface temperature than present-day by ~2 °C to 3 °C, and palaeoclimate analysis from this interval is used to understand climate drivers in ‘warmer world’. Previous oxygen isotope thermometry investigations of Pliocene southern North Sea Basin (SNSB) Aequipecten opercularis from the Coralline Crag Formation in Suffolk, UK repeatedly reveal evidence of a cold-temperate climate regime. Contrastingly, other biological proxies record a warm-temperate/sub-tropical regime. This investigation concentrated on oxygen, carbon and microgrowth increment widths (MIWS) of fossil shell material from Pliocene SNSB spanning an interval of~4.4 Ma to ~2.5 Ma. The study sites included shallow marine Pliocene formations from the western and eastern SNSB, the Ramsholt Member of the Coralline Crag Formation, Suffolk UK, and the Luchtbal Sands and Oorderen Sands Members of the Lillo Formation, Belgium, and the Oosterhout Formation in the Netherlands. Oxygen isotopic palaeotemperature results showed cooler summer temperatures than presently in the SNSB, which were reflective of a cool-temperate regime. There was no evidence of warm-temperate or sub-tropical summer palaeotemperatures in the Pliocene SNSB as suggested by other planktonic proxies. This investigation discussed the possible causal factors for the cooler – than- expected winter and summer palaeotemperatures in the ‘warmer’ Pliocene world as recorded by this proxy. Discrepancies between the cool summer benthic palaeotemperatures from the bivalves and the warmer sub-tropical or warm-temperate summer palaeotemperature estimations from planktonic biological proxies was rectified by the application of a theoretical summer stratification factor (SSF). However, rectifying the discrepancies between cooler (cold-temperate) benthic winter palaeotemperatures and the warmer winter palaeotemperatures from other proxies was difficult because stratification does not occur during the winter. Dormancy behaviours in the warm- temperate –sub-tropical organisms was proposed as a suitable mechanism to allow their coexistence with the cool-tolerant bivalves, which were able to grow and feed underneath the thermocline during the summer months. Therefore, the investigation showed how the Pliocene SNSB exhibited a greater seasonality than occurs presently in the SNSB. The driver for the cooler winter temperatures in the Pliocene SNSB was not identified. Localised explanations including continental wind effects, interannual variations in MOC strength, and increased storm activity in the winter bringing cooler water into the SNSB were all suggested as potential drivers. Global features of climate including interglacial/glacial cycles and orbital forcing effects were factors also proposed for the overall mixed palaeotemperature signal in the Pliocene SNSB.