Ice Volume and Sea Level During the Last Interglacial

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Science  13 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6091, pp. 216-219
DOI: 10.1126/science.1205749

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The last interglacial period, around 125,000 years ago, was 1° to 2°C warmer than the present, and the sea level was thought to be 4 to 6 meters higher. However, Dutton and Lambeck (p. 216), now suggest that sea level was possibly as much as 10 meters above current levels. Such a large excess of seawater would mean that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melted much more than previously assumed, which has implications for how much sea-level rise we should expect with anthropogenic climate warming.


During the last interglacial period, ~125,000 years ago, sea level was at least several meters higher than at present, with substantial variability observed for peak sea level at geographically diverse sites. Speculation that the West Antarctic ice sheet collapsed during the last interglacial period has drawn particular interest to understanding climate and ice-sheet dynamics during this time interval. We provide an internally consistent database of coral U-Th ages to assess last interglacial sea-level observations in the context of isostatic modeling and stratigraphic evidence. These data indicate that global (eustatic) sea level peaked 5.5 to 9 meters above present sea level, requiring smaller ice sheets in both Greenland and Antarctica relative to today and indicating strong sea-level sensitivity to small changes in radiative forcing.

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