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A Paleolatitude Calculator for Paleoclimate Studies
Van Hinsbergen, D.J.J.; De Groot, L.V.; Van Schaik, S.J.; Spakman, W.; Bijl, P.K.; Sluijs, A.; Langereis, C.G.; Brinkhuis, H. (2015). A Paleolatitude Calculator for Paleoclimate Studies. PLoS One 10(6): e0126946.
In: PLoS One. Public Library of Science: San Francisco. ISSN 1932-6203, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Van Hinsbergen, D.J.J.
  • De Groot, L.V.
  • Van Schaik, S.J.
  • Spakman, W.
  • Bijl, P.K.
  • Sluijs, A.
  • Langereis, C.G.
  • Brinkhuis, H., more

    Realistic appraisal of paleoclimatic information obtained from a particular location requires accurate knowledge of its paleolatitude defined relative to the Earth’s spin-axis. This is crucial to, among others, correctly assess the amount of solar energy received at a location at the moment of sediment deposition. The paleolatitude of an arbitrary location can in principle be reconstructed from tectonic plate reconstructions that (1) restore the relative motions between plates based on (marine) magnetic anomalies, and (2) reconstruct all plates relative to the spin axis using a paleomagnetic reference frame based on a global apparent polar wander path. Whereas many studies do employ high-quality relative plate reconstructions, the necessity of using a paleomagnetic reference frame for climate studies rather than a mantle reference frame appears under-appreciated. In this paper, we briefly summarize the theory of plate tectonic reconstructions and their reference frames tailored towards applications of paleoclimate reconstruction, and show that using a mantle reference frame, which defines plate positions relative to the mantle, instead of a paleomagnetic reference frame may introduce errors in paleolatitude of more than 15° (>1500 km). This is because mantle reference frames cannot constrain, or are specifically corrected for the effects of true polar wander. We used the latest, state-of-the-art plate reconstructions to build a global plate circuit, and developed an online, user-friendly paleolatitude calculator for the last 200 million years by placing this plate circuit in three widely used global apparent polar wander paths. As a novelty, this calculator adds error bars to paleolatitude estimates that can be incorporated in climate modeling. The calculator is available at We illustrate the use of the paleolatitude calculator by showing how an apparent wide spread in Eocene sea surface temperatures of southern high latitudes may be in part explained by a much wider paleolatitudinal distribution of sites than previously assumed.

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