Links between climate and sea levels for the past three million years

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The oscillations between glacial and interglacial climate conditions over the past three million years have been characterized by a transfer of immense amounts of water between two of its largest reservoirs on Earth — the ice sheets and the oceans. Since the latest of these oscillations, the Last Glacial Maximum (between about 30,000 and 19,000 years ago), 50 million cubic kilometres of ice has melted from the land-based ice sheets, raising global sea level by 130 metres. Such rapid changes in sea level are part of a complex pattern of interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, ice sheets and solid earth, all of which have different response timescales. The trigger for the sea-level fluctuations most probably lies with changes in insolation, caused by astronomical forcing, but internal feedback cycles complicate the simple model of causes and effects.

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Figure 1: δ18O records for the past 5 Myr from two sediment cores.
Figure 2: Relative sea level and insolation for the last glacial cycle.
Figure 3: Comparison of MIS-3 sea-level oscillations and Atlantic sediment records.
Figure 4: Sea-level fluctuations near former ice margins.
Figure 5: Changes in global ice volume from the time of the LGM to the present.


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This research was supported by the Australian National University and by the Swedish Research Council. We thank S. Björck for constructive comments and M. E. Raymo and G. H. Haug for providing the data sets for Fig. 1.

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Lambeck, K., Esat, T. & Potter, E. Links between climate and sea levels for the past three million years. Nature 419, 199–206 (2002) doi:10.1038/nature01089

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