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Relative sea-level rise around East Antarctica during Oligocene glaciation


During the middle and late Eocene ( 48–34 Myr ago), the Earth’s climate cooled1,2 and an ice sheet built up on Antarctica. The stepwise expansion of ice on Antarctica3,4 induced crustal deformation and gravitational perturbations around the continent. Close to the ice sheet, sea level rose5,6 despite an overall reduction in the mass of the ocean caused by the transfer of water to the ice sheet. Here we identify the crustal response to ice-sheet growth by forcing a glacial-hydro isostatic adjustment model7 with an Antarctic ice-sheet model. We find that the shelf areas around East Antarctica first shoaled as upper mantle material upwelled and a peripheral forebulge developed. The inner shelf subsequently subsided as lithosphere flexure extended outwards from the ice-sheet margins. Consequently the coasts experienced a progressive relative sea-level rise. Our analysis of sediment cores from the vicinity of the Antarctic ice sheet are in agreement with the spatial patterns of relative sea-level change indicated by our simulations. Our results are consistent with the suggestion8 that near-field processes such as local sea-level change influence the equilibrium state obtained by an ice-sheet grounding line.

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Figure 1: East Antarctic ice-sheet evolution and rsl changes at four model run times and relative to the pre-glacial state.
Figure 2: Rsl predictions at the sites considered in this study according to different Earth models and relative to the pre-glacial state.
Figure 3: Sedimentary records considered in this study and inferred qualitative rsl changes.

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This work was financially supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO, Project Number ALW-GO-A0/02-05). P.S. acknowledges financial support from the Academy Professorship awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) to H. Oerlemans. C.E. acknowledges financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education grant No. CTM2011-24079. A.J.P.H. acknowledges financial support from Statoil. S.P. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs (Award Number ANT-1245283). The authors are grateful to IODP for the samples collected during Expedition 318 to Wilkes Land. This research has been sponsored by the COST Action ES0701. The authors are grateful to VPRO TV and the Beagle Series. Further support was provided by the US National Foundation under awards ANT-0424589, 1043018 and OCE-1202632.

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P.S., C.E., H.B., B.L.A.V., A.J.P.H. and P.K.B. designed the research. P.S. and B.L.A.V. performed the GIA simulations. A.J.P.H., P.K.B., S.G., S.P. and C.E. compiled and generated field data. C.E. generated seismic stratigraphy data. R.M.D. and D.P. generated the ice-sheet model. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Paolo Stocchi or Bert L. A. Vermeersen.

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Stocchi, P., Escutia, C., Houben, A. et al. Relative sea-level rise around East Antarctica during Oligocene glaciation. Nature Geosci 6, 380–384 (2013).

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