A global warming trend began during the late Paleocene that culminated in the early Eocene with the highest global temperatures of the Cenozoic. We have reconstructed late Paleocene surficial boundary conditions and modeled atmospheric conditions using the Goddard Institute for Space Studies general circulation model version II (GISS GCM II). These experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that warm saline deep water formed during the late Paleocene and to understand atmospheric circulation near the beginning of a period of global warming. The warming is attributed primarily to increased sea surface temperatures at high latitudes. The sensitivity of the climate to ocean temperature was tested using two sea surface temperature distributions, each delimited latitudinally by oxygen isotope values, but with different east-west gradients.
The simulations discussed here contain several features unique among warm climate experiments. The first experiment (P-1) used latitudinally constant (zonal) sea surface temperatures. The zonally distributed sea surface temperatures strengthen the general circulation of the atmosphere. In particular, Hadley Cell circulation is intensified, leading to extremes of precipitation in the equatorial region and extreme evaporation across subtropical oceans. The unusual results prompted a second experiment with modern east-west sea surface temperature gradients superimposed and referred to as P-Gradient (P-Grad). The east-west gradients in the sea surface temperature field exert a strong influence on the general atmospheric circulation, but the extreme zonality prevails. Under extreme zonal conditions it is possible to create a model where evaporation is in excess of precipitation by as much as 3 mm/day. If this occurred in restricted areas in a generally warmer ocean, such as the late Paleocene eastern Tethys Ocean and parts of the South Atlantic Ocean, it should be possible to create very saline water, which could become a component in warm saline deep water formation.