Estimates of sea surface temperature (SST) based upon foraminifer, diatom, and ostracod assemblages from ocean cores reveal a warm phase of the Pliocene between about 3.3 and 3.0 Ma. Pollen records and plant megafossils, although not as well dated, show evidence for a warmer climate at about the same time. Increased greenhouse forcing and altered ocean heat transport are the leading candidates for the underlying cause of Pliocene global warmth. Despite being a period of global warmth, this interval encompasses considerable variability. Two new SST reconstructions are presented that are designed to provide a climatological error bar for warm peak phases of the Pliocene and to document the spatial distribution and magnitude of SST variability within the mid-Pliocene warm period. These data suggest long-term stability of low-latitude SST and document greater variability in regions of maximum warming. Copyright 2005 by the American Geophysical Union.