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High rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period


The last interglacial period, Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e, was characterized by global mean surface temperatures that were at least 2 C warmer than present1. Mean sea level stood 4–6 m higher than modern sea level2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13, with an important contribution from a reduction of the Greenland ice sheet1,14. Although some fossil reef data indicate sea-level fluctuations of up to 10 m around the mean3,4,5,6,7,8,9,11, so far it has not been possible to constrain the duration and rates of change of these shorter-term variations. Here, we use a combination of a continuous high-resolution sea-level record, based on the stable oxygen isotopes of planktonic foraminifera from the central Red Sea15,16,17,18, and age constraints from coral data to estimate rates of sea-level change during MIS-5e. We find average rates of sea-level rise of 1.6 m per century. As global mean temperatures during MIS-5e were comparable to projections for future climate change under the influence of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions19,20, these observed rates of sea-level change inform the ongoing debate about high versus low rates of sea-level rise in the coming century21,22.

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Figure 1: Stable isotope and derived sea-level records for central Red Sea cores KL11 and KL09.
Figure 2: MIS-5e high-resolution Red Sea sea-level reconstruction for KL11 and KL09 versus coral data.


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We thank all colleagues who have offered advice that helped shape the arguments in this manuscript, I. Schmeltzer, S. Geiselhart and H. Erlenkeuser for work on core KL11, and G. Trommer and M. Siccha for work on KL09. H. Elderfield provided valuable feedback to the Mg/Ca pilot study, and I. Marshall and C. Hayward helped with scanning electron microscope and electron microprobe analyses. This study was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC, NE/C003152/1), the German Science Foundation (DFG, He 697/17; Ku 2259/3) and EC project STOPFEN (HPRN-CT-2002-00221).

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Correspondence to E. J. Rohling or Ch. Hemleben.

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Supplementary table S1 and supplementary figures S1, S2 and S3 (PDF 939 kb)

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Rohling, E., Grant, K., Hemleben, C. et al. High rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period. Nature Geosci 1, 38–42 (2008).

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