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Similar meltwater contributions to glacial sea level changes from Antarctic and northern ice sheets


The period between 75,000 and 20,000 years ago was characterized by high variability in climate1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12 and sea level13,14. Southern Ocean records of ice-rafted debris15 suggest a significant contribution to the sea level changes from melt water of Antarctic origin, in addition to likely contributions from northern ice sheets, but the relative volumes of melt water from northern and southern sources have yet to be established. Here we simulate the first-order impact of a range of relative meltwater releases from the two polar regions on the distribution of marine oxygen isotopes, using an intermediate complexity model. By comparing our simulations with oxygen isotope data from sediment cores, we infer that the contributions from Antarctica and the northern ice sheets to the documented sea level rises between 65,000 and 35,000 years ago13 were approximately equal, each accounting for a rise of about 15 m. The reductions in Antarctic ice volume implied by our analysis are comparable to that inferred previously for the Antarctic contribution to meltwater pulse 1A (refs 16, 17), which occurred about 14,200 years ago, during the last deglaciation.

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Figure 1: Comparison of the Red Sea sea level record with Antarctic and Greenland ice-core records and with the timing of both North Atlantic (Heinrich; H) and Southern Ocean (SA) IRD events.
Figure 2: Development of Atlantic-wide mean δ18O values with time in the upper (solid lines), intermediate (broken lines), deep (dashed lines) and bottom (dotted lines) waters.
Figure 3: Horizontal (at 80 m depth) and vertical (along 25° W) distributions of δ18O after 1,500 yr of 0.23 Sv meltwater release.
Figure 4: Temperature simulations (at year 1,000) in the 50:50 model, for 0.23 Sv meltwater release.


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We thank T. Stocker, J. Thomson, A.P. Roberts, W. Broecker and N. Shackleton for suggestions. All authors contributed equally to this work.

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Correspondence to Eelco J. Rohling.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Contains a summary of sediment-core observations for validation of the model output, further details on the model applied in the paper, and a selection of different modelling scenarios. (PDF 818 kb)

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Rohling, E., Marsh, R., Wells, N. et al. Similar meltwater contributions to glacial sea level changes from Antarctic and northern ice sheets. Nature 430, 1016–1021 (2004).

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