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Timing of the Last Glacial Maximum from observed sea-level minima

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 05 July 2001


During the Last Glacial Maximum, ice sheets covered large areas in northern latitudes and global temperatures were significantly lower than today. But few direct estimates exist of the volume of the ice sheets, or the timing and rates of change during their advance and retreat1,2. Here we analyse four distinct sediment facies in the shallow, tectonically stable Bonaparte Gulf, Australia—each of which is characteristic of a distinct range in sea level—to estimate the maximum volume of land-based ice during the last glaciation and the timing of the initial melting phase. We use faunal assemblages and preservation status of the sediments to distinguish open marine, shallow marine, marginal marine and brackish conditions, and estimate the timing and the mass of the ice sheets using radiocarbon dating and glacio-hydro-isostatic modelling. Our results indicate that from at least 22,000 to 19,000 (calendar) years before present, land-based ice volume was at its maximum, exceeding today's grounded ice sheets by 52.5 × 106 km3. A rapid decrease in ice volume by about 10% within a few hundred years terminated the Last Glacial Maximum at 19,000 ± 250 years.

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Figure 1: Location and stratigraphy of the Bonaparte cores.
Figure 2: Sea level and ice volumes during the LGM.


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We thank J. Marshall for providing access to cores collected by the Australian Geological Survey Organisation.

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Correspondence to Kurt Lambeck.

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Yokoyama, Y., Lambeck, K., De Deckker, P. et al. Timing of the Last Glacial Maximum from observed sea-level minima. Nature 406, 713–716 (2000).

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