Letter | Published:

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

Naturevolume 430pages10161021 (2004) | Download Citation



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

Author information


  1. Southampton Oceanography Centre, SO14 3ZH, Southampton, UK

    • Eelco J. Rohling
    • , Robert Marsh
    • , Neil C. Wells
    •  & Mark Siddall
  2. Climate and Environmental Physics, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5

    • Mark Siddall
    •  & Neil R. Edwards
  3. NCCR-Climate, University of Bern, Erlachstrasse 9a, CH-3012, Bern, Switzerland

    • Neil R. Edwards


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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eelco J. Rohling.

Supplementary information

  1. 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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