Jiménez-Moreno, G., Pérez-Asensio, J. N., Larrasoaña, J. C., Sierro, F. J., Garcia-Castellanos, D., Salazar, Á., … Mediavilla, C. (2019). Early Pliocene climatic optimum, cooling and early glaciation deduced by terrestrial and marine environmental changes in SW Spain. Global and Planetary Change, 180, 89–99. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2019.06.002
The Pliocene is a key period in Earth's climate evolution, as it records the transition from warm and stable conditions to the colder and more variable glaciated climate of the Pleistocene. Simultaneously, climate became more seasonal in the Mediterranean area, and Mediterranean-type seasonal precipitation rhythm with summer drought established. These climatic changes presumably had significant impacts on terrestrial environments. However, the response of terrestrial environments to such climate changes is still not fully understood due to the lack of detailed studies dealing with this period of time. In this study, multiproxy analyses of continuous core sampling from La Matilla (SW Spain) shows detailed and continuous record of pollen, sand content and abundance of benthic foraminifer Bolivina spathulata to describe paleoenvironmental and paleoclimate trends during the early Pliocene. This record shows warmest, most humid climate conditions and highest riverine nutrient supply at ~ 4.35 Ma, coinciding with the Pliocene climatic optimum and high global sea level. A climate cooling and aridity trend occurred subsequently and a significant glaciation occurred at ~ 4.1–4.0 Ma, during a period known by very little terrestrial evidence of glaciation. Our multiproxy data thus indicate that terrestrial and marine environments were significantly variable during the early Pliocene and that major glaciation-like cooling occurred before the intensification of northern hemisphere glaciation at the beginning of the Pleistocene (~2.7 Ma). This major climate cooling and aridity maxima between 4.1 and 4.0 Ma is independently validated by a coeval sea-level drop (third order Za2 sequence boundary). This sea level drawdown is supported by enhanced coarse sedimentation and minima in riverine nutrient supply, showing paired vegetation and sea-level changes and thus a strong land-ocean relationship. This study also shows that long-term climatic trends were interrupted by orbital-scale cyclic climatic variability, with eccentricity, obliquity and precession acting as the main triggers controlling climate and environmental change in the area.