Climate Science

Punctuated Glaciation

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Science  14 Feb 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5609, pp. 979
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5609.979b

Sea level rose more than 150 m following the last glacial maximum about 20,000 years ago, and similarly during the previous interglacial, about 130,000 years ago. The rise was episodic, with periods of rapid melting of large ice sheets in Antarctica and the Northern Hemisphere. The sea level fluctuations during large ice sheet formation from about 120,000 to 20,000 years ago also contain information about climate and ice sheet dynamics, but it has been difficult to extract because many corals—the best recorders of past sea levels—are now buried underwater.

Cutler et al. provide a detailed view of sea level history by accurately dating corals, some from underwater drill cores, in Barbados and Papua New Guinea. These records indicate that sea level fell and rose cyclically, at rates as high as 60 m over 6000 years after the end of the previous interglacial, before falling just prior to the last glacial maximum to more than 100 m below the current level. Notably, the periods when sea level dropped rapidly correspond to times when moisture transport toward the poles was enhanced and to declines in deep-ocean temperatures. — BH

Earth Planet. Sci. Lett.206, 253 (2003).

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