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Sea-Level Highstand 81,000 Years Ago in Mallorca

Science  12 Feb 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5967, pp. 860-863
DOI: 10.1126/science.1181725

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Standing High

Sea-level rises and falls as Earth's giant ice sheets shrink and grow. It has been thought that sea level around 81,000 years ago—well into the last glacial period—was 15 to 20 meters below that of today and, thus, that the ice sheets were more extensive. Dorale et al. (p. 860; see the Perspective by Edwards) now challenge this view. A speleothem that has been intermittently submerged in a cave on the island of Mallorca was dated to show that, historically, sea level was more than a meter above its present height. This data implies that temperatures were as high as or higher than now, even though the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was much lower.

Abstract

Global sea level and Earth’s climate are closely linked. Using speleothem encrustations from coastal caves on the island of Mallorca, we determined that western Mediterranean relative sea level was ~1 meter above modern sea level ~81,000 years ago during marine isotope stage (MIS) 5a. Although our findings seemingly conflict with the eustatic sea-level curve of far-field sites, they corroborate an alternative view that MIS 5a was at least as ice-free as the present, and they challenge the prevailing view of MIS 5 sea-level history and certain facets of ice-age theory.

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