Early-warning signals for Cenozoic climate transitions

Christopher Boettner, Georg Klinghammer, Niklas Boers, Thomas Westerhold, Norbert Marwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Deep-time paleoclimatic records document large-scale shifts and perturbations in Earth's climate; during the Cenozoic in particular transitions have been recorded on time scales of 10 thousand to 1 million years. Bifurcations in the leading dynamical modes could be a key element driving these events. Such bifurcation-induced critical transitions are typically preceded by characteristic early-warning signals, for example in terms of rising standard deviation and lag-one autocorrelation. These early-warning signals are generated by a widening of the underlying basin of attraction when approaching the bifurcation, a phenomenon dubbed critical slowing down. The associated dynamical transitions should therefore be preceded by characteristic signals that can be detected by statistical methods. Here, we reveal the presence of significant early-warning signals prior to several climate events within a paleoclimate record spanning the last 66 million years - the Cenozoic Era. We computed standard deviation and lag-one autocorrelation of the CENOzoic Global Reference benthic foraminifer carbon and oxygen Isotope Dataset (CENOGRID), comprising two time series of deep sea carbonate isotope variations of 18O and 13C. We find significant early-warning signals for five out of nine previously identified Cenozoic paleoclimatic events in at least one of the two records, which can be considered as viable candidates for bifurcation-induced transitions to be analysed in follow-up studies. Our results suggest that some of the major climate events of the last 66 Ma were triggered by bifurcations in leading modes of variability, indicating bifurcations could be a key component of Earth's climate system deep-time evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107177
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Abrupt climate transitions
  • Cenozoic
  • Critical slowing down
  • Early-warning signals
  • Non-linear time series analysis


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