SCIENCE CHINA Earth Sciences, Volume 62, Issue 7: 1053-1075(2019) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-018-9337-8

Continental drift, plateau uplift, and the evolutions of monsoon and arid regions in Asia, Africa, and Australia during the Cenozoic

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  • ReceivedOct 6, 2018
  • AcceptedJan 30, 2019
  • PublishedMar 26, 2019


Monsoon and arid regions in the Asia-Africa-Australia (A-A-A) realm occupy more than 60% of the total area of these continents. Geological evidence showed that significant changes occurred to the A-A-A environments of the monsoon and arid regions, the land-ocean configuration in the Eastern Hemisphere, and the topography of the Tibetan Plateau (TP) in the Cenozoic. Motivated by this background, numerical experiments for 5 typical geological periods during the Cenozoic were conducted using a coupled ocean-atmosphere general circulation model to systemically explore the formations and evolutionary histories of the Cenozoic A-A-A monsoon and arid regions under the influences of continental drift and plateau uplift. Results of the numerical experiments indicate that the timings and causes of the formations of monsoon and arid regions in the A-A-A realm were very different. The northern and southern African monsoons existed during the mid-Paleocene, while the South Asian monsoon appeared in the Eocene after the Indian Subcontinent moved into the tropical Northern Hemisphere. In contrast, the East Asian monsoon and northern Australian monsoon were established much later in the Miocene. The establishment of the tropical monsoons in northern and southern Africa, South Asia, and Australia were determined by both the continental drift and seasonal migration of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), while the position and height of the TP were the key factor for the establishment of the East Asian monsoon. The presence of the subtropical arid regions in northern and southern Africa, Asia, and Australia depended on the positions of the continents and the control of the planetary scale subtropical high pressure zones, while the arid regions in the Arabian Peninsula and West Asia were closely related to the retreat of the Paratethys Sea. The formation of the mid-latitude arid region in the Asian interior, on the other hand, was the consequence of the uplift of the TP. These results from this study provide insight to the important roles played by the earth’s tectonic boundary conditions in the formations and evolutions of regional climates during geological times.

Funded by

the National Natural Science Foundation of China(Grant,Nos.,41690115,&,41572150)

the Strategic Priority Research Program(A)


The authors sincerely thank the anonymous reviewers who provided valuable comments and suggestions that helped revision of the manuscript. This work was jointly supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41690115 & 41572150) and the Strategic Priority Research Program (A) of Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. XDA20070103). B Dong and R S Smith were supported by the U.K. National Centre for Atmospheric Science-Climate (NCAS-Climate) at the University of Reading. Z Y Yin was in part supported by the University of San Diego (FRG # 2017-18).


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  • Figure 1

    Distributions of the present day Asian-African-Australian monsoon regions (green) and arid regions (yellow). (a) Simulation; (b) observation. The blue shaded area is ocean or lake, and the contours indicate the elevations (m) of the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and its vicinity.

  • Figure 2

    Distributions of the Asian-African-Australian monsoon regions (green) and arid regions (yellow) in five periods during the Cenozoic. (a) Mid-Paleocene (60 Ma); (b) late-Eocene (40 Ma); (c) late-Oligocene (25 Ma); (d) late-Miocene (10 Ma); (e) present-day (0 Ma). The blue shade is oceans or lakes, and the grey outlines indicate the 1500 m elevation contour of the TP and its vicinity.

  • Figure 3

    Area changes of four monsoon regions (left column) and five arid regions (right column) in the five geological periods of the Cenozoic. (a) North Africa monsoon region; (b) South Africa monsoon region; (c) Asian monsoon region; (d) Australian monsoon region; (e) North Africa arid region; (f) South Africa arid region; (g) West Asia arid region (Asia west of 70°E); (h) East Asia arid region (Asia east of 70°E), (i) Australian arid region.

  • Figure 4

    Distributions of the Northern Hemisphere winter mean (left column) and summer mean (right column) precipitation (shaded) and 500 hPa vertical velocity (contours) in the five geological periods during the Cenozoic. (a), (f) mid-Paleocene; (b), (g) late-Eocene; (c), (h) late-Oligocene; (d), (i) late-Miocene; (e), (j) present-day. Precipitation rate unit: mm d–1, vertical velocity interval: 0.01 Pa s–1. The red lines are zero contours. The negative values (dashed lines) indicate ascending motion.

  • Figure 5

    Comparison of the Asia-Africa-Australia monsoon regions (green) and the coverages of the ITCZ (areas where ω<–0.015 Pa s–1 at 500 hPa) in boreal winter (blue lines) and boreal summer (red lines) for the five periods of the Cenozoic. (a) Mid-Paleocene; (b) late-Eocene; (c) late-Oligocene; (d) late-Miocene; (e) present-day. The grey outlines indicate the 1500 m elevation contours of the TP and its vicinity.

  • Figure 6

    The 850 hPa summer mean streamline fields with the northern boundary (red lines) of the summer monsoon circulation over East Asia (left column) and variations of summer precipitation rate (mm d–1) averaged for the longitude range (105°E–120°E) of East Asian monsoon by latitude (right column) in the five periods of the Cenozoic. (a), (f) mid-Paleocene; (b), (g) late-Eocene; (c), (h) late-Oligocene; (d), (i) late-Miocene; (e), (j) present-day. The blue and black shades indicate the ocean and the plateau topography, respectively in (a)–(e).

  • Figure 7

    Distribution of the Asia-Africa-Australia arid regions (yellow) and annual mean sea level pressure fields (contours) in the five periods during the Cenozoic. (a), (f) mid-Paleocene; (b), (g) late-Eocene; (c), (h) late-Oligocene; (d), (i) late-Miocene; (e), (j) present-day. The red isobars indicate high pressure zones. The grey outlines indicate the 1500 m elevation contours of the TP and its vicinity. Unit of sea level pressure: hPa.

  • Figure 8

    Cross-sections of global zonal mean (left column) and Asian (70°E–120°E) zonal mean (right column) of the meridional mass stream function (shades) and meridional circulation (wind vectors) in the five periods of the Cenozoic. From top to bottom, results of mid-Paleocene, late-Eocene, late-Oligocene, late-Miocene and present-day are shown, respectively. Unit of streamfunction: 1010 kg s–1, unit of meridional wind speed: m s–1, unit of vertical wind speed: 10–2 Pa s–1.

  • Figure 9

    Cross sections of boreal winter (left column) and summer (right column) vertical velocity averaged for the longitude range (70°E–120°E) where the Asia landmass is located. From top to bottom, results of mid-Paleocene, late-Eocene, late-Oligocene, late-Miocene and present-day are shown, respectively. Yellow shades indicate the ascending motion areas. Unit: 10–2 Pa s–1.

  • Figure 10

    Comparative experiments that simulated distributions of monsoon regions (green) and arid regions (yellow) without topography and experiments with pre-industrial CO2 level with and without topography for the late-Eocene land-ocean configuration. (a), (b), (c) and (d) correspond to the experiments of the late-Eocene, late-Oligocene, late-Miocene and present-day land-sea configurations but without topography, respectively; (e), (f) correspond to the experiments with and without topography, respectively, under condition of the late-Eocene land-sea configuration and pre-industrial CO2 level. Blue shades represent oceans or lakes. The gray outline indicates the 1500 m elevation contour in (e).

  • Figure 11

    Regional topographic and land-sea distribution characteristics during the Cenozoic and changes in the sizes of the monsoon and arid regions. (a) the mean altitude, area, mean latitude of the TP above 1500 m and the area of the Asian monsoon region; (b) the central latitude of the TP, the area with elevations exceeding 1500m of the TP north of 30°N, and the area of the Asian inland arid region north of 40°N on the northern side of the TP; (c) the areas of land, ocean and arid regions in the mid-low latitudes from Western Europe-North Africa to Central Asia (20°W–100°E, 20°N–60°N); (d) the northernmost latitude of the Australian continent, area of the Australian monsoon region, central latitude of the Australian continent and area of the Australian arid region.

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