Early Pliocene vegetation and hydrology changes in western equatorial South America

Grimmer, Friederike; Dupont, Lydie; Lamy, Frank; Jung, Gerlinde; González, Catalina; Wefer, Gerold

During the early Pliocene, two major tectonic events triggered a profound reorganization of ocean and atmospheric circulation in the eastern equatorial Pacific (EEP), in the Caribbean Sea, and on adjacent land masses: the progressive closure of the Central American Seaway (CAS) and the uplift of the Northern Andes. These affected, among other things, the mean latitudinal position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The direction of an ITCZ shift, however, is still debated, as numeric modeling results and paleoceanographic data indicate shifts in opposite directions. To provide new insights into this debate, an independent hydrological record of western equatorial South America was generated. Vegetation and climate of this area were reconstructed by pollen analysis of 46 samples from marine sediments of Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Hole 1239A from the EEP comprising the interval between 4.7 and 4.2 Ma. The study site is sensitive to latitudinal ITCZ shifts insofar as a southward (northward) shift would result in increased (decreased) precipitation over Ecuador. The presented pollen record comprises representatives from five ecological groups: lowland rainforest, lower montane forest, upper montane forest, páramo, and broad range taxa. A broad tropical rainforest coverage persisted in the study area throughout the early Pliocene, without significant open vegetation beyond the páramo. Between 4.7 and 4.42 Ma, humidity increases, reaching its peak around 4.42 Ma and slightly decreasing again afterwards. The stable, permanently humid conditions are rather in agreement with paleoceanographic data, indicating a southward shift of the ITCZ, possibly in response to CAS closure. The presence of páramo vegetation indicates that the Ecuadorian Andes had already reached considerable elevation by the early Pliocene. Future studies could extend the hydrological record of the region further back into the late Miocene to see if a more profound atmospheric response to tectonic changes occurred earlier.

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Grimmer, Friederike / Dupont, Lydie / Lamy, Frank / et al: Early Pliocene vegetation and hydrology changes in western equatorial South America. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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