Earth’s climate is influenced by a number of factors and their interaction. Ocean currents transporting huge water masses have a strong influence on climate. In this way heat is transported from the equators towards the poles. The effect is documented e.g. in the western part of Ireland and the UK where branches of the gulf stream, named after the Gulf of Mexico, lead to a mild climate and allow the growth of palm trees. In the same latitudes in North America these plants can only be found in well heated buildings. The difference results from the heating system of the gulf streams, which provides the equivalent of 30,000 million tons of coal produced warmth showing how well a current transports heat.

Why do we need to understand the development of the Southern Ocean's gateways?

Additionally to the primary importance of oceanic currents on climate are their pathways. These are not arbitrary. Submarine mountains, ridges and barriers steer their paths. The location of the continents further influences the pathways of the oceanic circulation. A simple look onto a globe tells everyone that there is no direct circulation between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. Panama prohibits this. But until about 6 million years ago North and South America were not connected via this land bridge and water could pass freely from the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic at this location. With the relocation of both continents this gateway was closed thus interrupting the water mass exchange.

The displacement of the continents, i.e. the plate tectonic change in their geographic location, hence enforces modifications in pathways of oceanic currents. The plate tectonic development of Earth thus directly affects climate. In order to gain knowledge on the evolution of Earth’s climate we reconstruct the plate tectonic development of Earth thus contributing to a better understanding of the presently active processes on Earth and their impact on climate.