Letter | Published:

Collapse of polar ice sheets during the stage 11 interglacial

Nature volume 483, pages 453456 (22 March 2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

Contentious observations of Pleistocene shoreline features on the tectonically stable islands of Bermuda and the Bahamas have suggested that sea level about 400,000 years ago was more than 20 metres higher than it is today1,2,3,4. Geochronologic and geomorphic evidence indicates that these features formed during interglacial marine isotope stage (MIS) 11, an unusually long interval of warmth during the ice age1,2,3,4. Previous work has advanced two divergent hypotheses for these shoreline features: first, significant melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, in addition to the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland Ice Sheet1,2,3; or second, emplacement by a mega-tsunami during MIS 11 (ref. 4, 5). Here we show that the elevations of these features are corrected downwards by 10 metres when we account for post-glacial crustal subsidence of these sites over the course of the anomalously long interglacial. On the basis of this correction, we estimate that eustatic sea level rose to 6–13 m above the present-day value in the second half of MIS 11. This suggests that both the Greenland Ice Sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed during the protracted warm period while changes in the volume of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet were relatively minor, thereby resolving the long-standing controversy over the stability of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet during MIS 11.

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Acknowledgements

We thank P. Hearty and D. Bowen for discussions of MIS 11 field data, and J. L. Davis for suggestions regarding data analysis. Support for this research was provided by NSF-OCE-0825293 and OCE-1202632 (M.E.R.), Harvard University (J.X.M.) and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (J.X.M.).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, PO Box 1000, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Maureen E. Raymo
  2. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Jerry X. Mitrovica

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Contributions

This study was planned, undertaken and written jointly.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maureen E. Raymo.

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    Supplementary Information

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10891

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