Abigail Klein Leichman
September 21, 2023

A previously unknown mechanism that significantly influences Earth’s climate has been discovered by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Bristol, UK.

The study, “Effects of paleogeographic changes and CO2 variability on northern mid-latitudinal temperature gradients in the Cretaceous,” was led by HUJ earth sciences doctoral candidate Kaushal Gianchandani and published in Nature Communications.

This study explores the climate during the Cretaceous period, around 145 to 66 million years ago, when there were dinosaurs roaming around. This era is nicknamed the “greenhouse period” because a lot of a carbon dioxide gas was in the air. And the Earth’s continents were shifting.

The scientists used a novel analytic model developed by Gianchandani with professors Nathan Paldor and Hezi Gildor to examine wind-driven circulation at the ocean’s surface and the role of ocean basin geometry in prehistoric climates.

The movement of continents, they discovered, caused a slowdown in the large swirling ocean currents responsible for carrying warm water from the equator to the poles.

This slowdown disrupted the way the ocean regulated its surface temperatures, resulting in a significant increase in temperature differences between the poles and the tropics during that time.

While the study primarily focused on the Cretaceous period, the discovery of the previously unknown mechanism has implications for our understanding of contemporary climate systems, they say.

“It highlights the importance of ocean gyres [circulation patterns] in shaping climate dynamics, both in the past and today. It underscores the complexity of Earth’s climate and the strong effect that processes other than CO2 concentration might have on it.”

This knowledge, they say, can potentially aid in modeling and predicting the impacts of climate change in the modern era, as ocean circulation patterns continue to play a crucial role in regulating global climate.

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