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Global climate change over the last five million years includes the early Pliocene warm period (c. 5–3 Ma) and a transition to the cool ice age climate of the latest c. 2 Ma. The growth of large ice sheets was accompanied by changes in deep and intermediate water mass characteristics, the end of El Niño-like mean conditions, and the development of cool tropical and subtropical upwelling regions. By considering how and when regional changes occurred, several possible causes of the warm to cold Pliocene climate transition are explored. There is intriguing evidence that, in addition to ice-albedo feedbacks that amplified cooling in high-latitude regions, the shoaling thermocline was a critical factor in the evolution of the Northern Hemisphere ice ages.

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