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Sea-level fluctuations during the last glacial cycle


The last glacial cycle was characterized by substantial millennial-scale climate fluctuations1,2,3,4,5, but the extent of any associated changes in global sea level (or, equivalently, ice volume) remains elusive. Highstands of sea level can be reconstructed from dated fossil coral reef terraces6,7, and these data are complemented by a compilation of global sea-level estimates based on deep-sea oxygen isotope ratios at millennial-scale resolution8 or higher1. Records based on oxygen isotopes, however, contain uncertainties in the range of ±30 m, or ±1 °C in deep sea temperature9,10. Here we analyse oxygen isotope records from Red Sea sediment cores to reconstruct the history of water residence times in the Red Sea. We then use a hydraulic model of the water exchange between the Red Sea and the world ocean to derive the sill depth—and hence global sea level—over the past 470,000 years (470 kyr). Our reconstruction is accurate to within ±12 m, and gives a centennial-scale resolution from 70 to 25 kyr before present. We find that sea-level changes of up to 35 m, at rates of up to 2 cm yr-1, occurred, coincident with abrupt changes in climate.

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Figure 1: Sea-level reconstruction since the start of the Younger Dryas, based on the δ18O record from core KL11 (18° 44.5′ N, 39° 20.6′ E) including error bars of ±12 m.
Figure 2: Sea-level reconstruction for the Red Sea for the past 470 kyr.
Figure 3: The high-resolution δ18O record for the study interval between 70 and 20 kyr bp, based on analyses of the planktonic foraminifer G. ruber in central Red Sea core KL1119,20.
Figure 4: Comparison between the Red Sea and other sea-level estimates.


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We thank N. Shackleton for advice and permission to use the deep-sea δ18O record of MD952042b, E. Bard for Tahiti sea-level estimates, and A. Hogg, J. F. McManus, P. M. Grootes and H. Erlenkeuser for help during the preparation of this Letter. M.S. has been funded by a NERC studentship.

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Correspondence to M. Siddall.

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Siddall, M., Rohling, E., Almogi-Labin, A. et al. Sea-level fluctuations during the last glacial cycle. Nature 423, 853–858 (2003).

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