Intense tectonic movement occurred along the northeastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau 3-4Ma. During the same time period, global climate changed from a period of stability to a period of frequent and abrupt changes, which prevented fluvial and glacial systems from establishing a state of equilibrium. Thus, it is difficult to directly attribute the 3-4Ma coarse-grained sediment accumulation in East Asia to climate change or tectonic activity. This study compares Late Cenozoic multi-proxy records from the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP) to the low-latitude grain size, sea level and benthic δ18O records from the South China Sea (SCS) and the high latitude grain-size record from Lake Baikal. All records suggest a steady and persistent cooling since ~4Ma, which correlates well with those cooling records from other regions around the world. This coincided in timing with the modeling results that the closure of the Central American Seaway (CAS) initiated strengthening of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation between 4.8 and 4.0Ma which led to both warming of the Northern Hemisphere (NH) and cooling of the Southern Hemisphere (SH). Cooling of the SH would induce a marked development of the Antarctic ice sheets at ~4Ma, pushing the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) northward. This was superimposed on warming of the NH and brought more precipitation to the middle latitudes of the NH, resulting in increases in coarse-grained sediments in the Sikouzi section from the western CLP since 4.2Ma. Notably, the absence of coarse-grained sedimentation in the Sikouzi section during 3.0-2.1Ma and the gradual decrease in coarse-grained peaks since 2.1Ma reflected by the Sikouzi grain-size record probably resulted from stepwise increase in the NH ice volume pushing the ITCZ southward. On the other hand, development of the Antarctic ice sheets would induce global cooling and enhancement of physical weathering, initiating increases in sedimentation rates as well as increases in grain size from Lake Baikal to the CLP to the SCS. Therefore the closure of the CAS during 4.8-4.0Ma and its influence on ocean heat transport was possibly the major forcing factor for global cooling since 4Ma. A persistent and steady cooling during 4-3Ma probably made a significant contribution to the establishment of the NH ice sheets at 2.75Ma ago. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.
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