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Substantial contribution to sea-level rise during the last interglacial from the Greenland ice sheet


During the last interglacial period (the Eemian), global sea level was at least three metres, and probably more than five metres, higher than at present1,2. Complete melting of either the West Antarctic ice sheet or the Greenland ice sheet would today raise sea levels by 6–7 metres. But the high sea levels during the last interglacial period have been proposed to result mainly from disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet3, with model studies attributing only 1–2?m of sea-level rise to meltwater from Greenland4,5. This result was considered consistent with ice core evidence4, although earlier work had suggested a much reduced Greenland ice sheet during the last interglacial period6. Here we reconsider the Eemian evolution of the Greenland ice sheet by combining numerical modelling with insights obtained from recent central Greenland ice-core analyses. Our results suggest that the Greenland ice sheet was considerably smaller and steeper during the Eemian, and plausibly contributed 4–5.5?m to the sea-level highstand during that period. We conclude that the high sea level during the last interglacial period most probably included a large contribution from Greenland meltwater and therefore should not be interpreted as evidence for a significant reduction of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

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Figure 1: Assumed isotopic history.
Figure 2: Calculated Eemian sea-level rise due to Greenland melting.
Figure 3: Calculated surface elevation maps for the Greenland ice sheet at its Eemian minimum.
Figure 4: Sensitivity tests.


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We thank C. Ritz, G. Clow, National Science and Engineering Research Council Canada, GISP2 and GRIP project members, and especially the Northwest Glaciological Society.

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Correspondence to Kurt M. Cuffey.

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Cuffey, K., Marshall, S. Substantial contribution to sea-level rise during the last interglacial from the Greenland ice sheet. Nature 404, 591–594 (2000).

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