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Rapid coupling between ice volume and polar temperature over the past 150,000 years


Current global warming necessitates a detailed understanding of the relationships between climate and global ice volume. Highly resolved and continuous sea-level records are essential for quantifying ice-volume changes. However, an unbiased study of the timing of past ice-volume changes, relative to polar climate change, has so far been impossible because available sea-level records either were dated by using orbital tuning or ice-core timescales, or were discontinuous in time. Here we present an independent dating of a continuous, high-resolution sea-level record1,2 in millennial-scale detail throughout the past 150,000 years. We find that the timing of ice-volume fluctuations agrees well with that of variations in Antarctic climate and especially Greenland climate. Amplitudes of ice-volume fluctuations more closely match Antarctic (rather than Greenland) climate changes. Polar climate and ice-volume changes, and their rates of change, are found to covary within centennial response times. Finally, rates of sea-level rise reached at least 1.2 m per century during all major episodes of ice-volume reduction.

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Figure 1: Correlation of Soreq Cave and eastern Mediterranean (LC21) δ 18 O signals and the Red Sea RSL record.
Figure 2: Comparison of probabilistic assessment of RSL with other sea-level reconstructions and with Antarctic and Greenland climate variability.
Figure 3: Lagged correlations of Antarctic and Greenland climate versus ice volume (sea-level), and rates of sea-level change over the last full glacial cycle.


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We thank A. Dutton for comments that improved the manuscript. S. Lee helped with the use of OxCal. This study contributes to UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) projects NE/H004424/1, NE/E01531X/1 and NE/I009906/1, to a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (E.J.R.), and to a 2012 Australian Laureate Fellowship FL120100050 (E.J.R.).

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Authors and Affiliations



K.M.G. led the study. E.J.R. designed the study, contributed to statistical analyses and co-wrote the paper. M.B.-M. and A.A. developed the Soreq Cave speleothem record. M.M.E. contributed to the interpretations. C.B.R. supported the Bayesian age modelling. C.S. contributed the LC21 tephrachronology. A.P.R. contributed to the discussion of results and manuscript refinement.

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Correspondence to K. M. Grant.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Grant, K., Rohling, E., Bar-Matthews, M. et al. Rapid coupling between ice volume and polar temperature over the past 150,000 years. Nature 491, 744–747 (2012).

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