Research Article

Long-Term Sea-Level Fluctuations Driven by Ocean Basin Dynamics

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Science  07 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5868, pp. 1357-1362
DOI: 10.1126/science.1151540

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Earth's long-term sea-level history is characterized by widespread continental flooding in the Cretaceous period (∼145 to 65 million years ago), followed by gradual regression of inland seas. However, published estimates of the Late Cretaceous sea-level high differ by half an order of magnitude, from ∼40 to ∼250 meters above the present level. The low estimate is based on the stratigraphy of the New Jersey margin. By assimilating marine geophysical data into reconstructions of ancient ocean basins, we model a Late Cretaceous sea level that is 170 (85 to 270) meters higher than it is today. We use a mantle convection model to suggest that New Jersey subsided by 105 to 180 meters in the past 70 million years because of North America's westward passage over the subducted Farallon plate. This mechanism reconciles New Jersey margin–based sea-level estimates with ocean basin reconstructions.

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