An early-middle Eocene Antarctic summer monsoon: Evidence of ‘fossil climates’

Frédéric M.B. Jacquesa,  Gongle Shia,  Haomin Lia, Weiming Wanga


A warmer and mostly ice-free South polar region prevailed during the early-middle Eocene, indicative of a low latitudinal temperature gradient. Climatic models mostly fail to reconstruct such a low gradient, demonstrating our poor understanding of the mechanisms involved in heat transfer. Here we describe a new phenomenon that shaped the southern high latitude climate during the early-middle Eocene: the Antarctic summer monsoon. Our palaeoclimatic reconstruction is based on 25 morphotypes of fossil dicotyledonous leaves from the early-middle Eocene fossil leaf assemblage of Fossil Hill from King George Island, the Antarctic Peninsula. We use a novel CLAMP (Climate Leaf Analysis Multivariate Program) calibration which includes new climatic parameters that allow us to characterise better the seasonality in precipitation. Our reconstruction indicates a warm humid temperate climate with strong seasonality in temperature and precipitation. Seasonality in precipitation indicates a rainfall rate of 6.4 ± 1.30 mm/day during summer (summer daily rate of precipitation; SDR) and a summer precipitation representing more than 60.3 ± 8.28% of annual rainfall (ratio of summer precipitation; RSP), which fulfills the definition of a summer monsoon in the modern world. This implies a seasonal alternation of high- and low-pressure systems over Antarctica during the early-middle Eocene. Such a climate regime would have impacted upon global atmospheric circulation and heat transfer. This climatic regime presents a challenge for climatic models and their ability to reconstruct accurately palaeoclimates at high southern latitudes and thereby understand latitudinal heat transfer in a ‘greenhouse Earth’ regime.

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