What is the current status of the Raymo & Ruddiman hypothesis that the uplift of the Tibetan Plateau during the Cenozoic cooled the Earth, resulting the current ice age(*)?

cf. Raymo, M.E. and W.F. Ruddiman (1992) Tectonic forcing of late Cenozoic climate. Nature, v. 359, p. 117-122.

This argued that enhanced erosion rates from the uplift of the Tibetan Plateau took CO2 from the atmosphere and cooled the Earth enough for polar ice caps to form. This was popular in my undergraduate days, although there were questions about the precise timing of events, and stopping a "runaway cooling" event.

(*) Ice age in a geological sense, i.e. with ice caps at one or both of the poles.


1 Answer 1


The Tibetan Plateau uplift is still generally considered as playing a role in the Neogene cooling through the process you explained in your question (see for instance the seminal Zachos et al. 2001 and more recently Garzione 2008).
It is probable that other phenomena played a role as well such as the diversification of diatoms (which are, today, the most efficient biological carbon sink, e. g. Goldman 1993; Ragueneau et al 2000) around 15 Ma (Lazarus et al 2014 [Disclaimer: I am a co-author of the latter paper] ) or changes in the ocean circulation (specifically an increase in the proportion of bottom water originating from the Southern Ocean; Flower & Kennett 1994).
That being said, the cooling in question here would be the one starting at ca. 15 Ma. However the Cenozoic cooling trend started way earlier, in the Early Eocene (after the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum, aka EECO), with ice on the eastern Antarctic continent as early as the Late Eocene / Early Oligocene (see again Zachos et al 2001).


Flower, B. P. & Kennett, J. P., 1994. The middle Miocene climatic transition: East Antarctic ice sheet development, deep ocean circulation and global carbon cycling. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 108: 537-555.

Garzione, C. N., 2008. Surface uplift of Tibet and Cenozoic global cooling. Geology, 36: 1003-1004.

Goldman, J. C., 1993. Potential role of large oceanic diatoms in new primary production. Deep-Sea Research I, 40(1): 159-168.

Lazarus, D., Barron, J., Renaudie, J., Diver, P., & Türke, A., 2014. Cenozoic Planktonic Marine Diatom Diversity and Correlation to Climate Change. Plos One, 9(1): e84857.

Ragueneau, O., Tréguer, P., Leynaert, A., Anderson, R. F., Brzezinski, M. A., DeMaster, D. J., Dugdale, R. C., Dymond, J., Fischer, G., François, R., Heinze, C., Maier-Reimer, E., Martin-Jézéquel, E., Nelson, D. M., Quéguiner, B., 2000. A review of Si cycle in the modern ocean: recent progress and missing gaps in the application of biogenic opal as a paleoproductivity proxy. Global and Planetary Change, 26: 317-365.

Zachos, J., Pagani, M., Sloan, L., Thomas, E., Billups, K., 2001. Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to Present. Science, 292:686-693.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the full answer. I assume the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum is what I know as the PETM (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum)? Speculating, I wonder if recovery from this spike in temperatures led to an 'overshoot' in cooling? $\endgroup$
    – winwaed
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ @winwaed No the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum are two separate events: the latter you're referring to lasted ca. 80 kyrs (hence indeed a "spike") from beginning to complete recovery while the other i was referring to occurred 5 Myr later and marks the end of a long-term warming trend (originating probably in the Cretaceous (?)) and the beginning of a long-term cooling trend. See Zachos et al. 2001 for a complete overview of Cenozoic climate trends. $\endgroup$
    – plannapus
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ FYI this paper is freely available on the main author academic webpage: es.ucsc.edu/~jzachos/pubs/Zachos_etal_2001b.pdf $\endgroup$
    – plannapus
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ thanks plannapus for the EECO explanation and the paper URL. Some coffee time reading :-) $\endgroup$
    – winwaed
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 13:21

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