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Barbados-based estimate of ice volume at Last Glacial Maximum affected by subducted plate


The record of sea-level change at Barbados derived from the dating of fossil corals1,2,3 has been used to argue that globally averaged, or eustatic, sea level during the Last Glacial Maximum was approximately 120 m below present3. This estimate is roughly 10 m lower than inferences based on sea-level data from other far-field sites4 and, if correct, would suggest that the Barbados record is a largely uncontaminated measure of eustasy3. However, these previous analyses1,2,3,4 were based on numerical corrections for glacial isostatic adjustment that adopted one-dimensional viscoelastic Earth models. Here we assess the impact of three-dimensional mantle viscoelastic structure on predictions of post-glacial sea-level change at Barbados. Our simulations indicate that the predictions are strongly perturbed by the presence of a high-viscosity slab associated with subduction of the South American Plate beneath the Caribbean Plate. The slab suppresses local deformation and reduces the sea-level rise predicted during the deglaciation phase. To accommodate this reduction while maintaining a fit to the Barbados sea-level record requires an excess ice volume at the Last Glacial Maximum equivalent to about 130 m of eustatic sea-level rise. Given a downward revision in estimates of the Antarctic ice sheet contribution5 to this excess ice volume, we conclude that a significant amount of Northern Hemisphere ice at the Last Glacial Maximum remains unaccounted for in sea-level-based ice sheetreconstructions.

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Figure 1: RSL at Barbados from LGM to present.
Figure 2: Tectonic setting of the Caribbean and 3D Earth model.
Figure 3: Impact of lateral variations in mantle viscoelastic structure on predictions of RSL at Barbados.
Figure 4: Prediction of RSL at Barbados based on a 3D viscoelastic model.


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Support for this research was provided by NSF-OCE-1202632, Harvard University and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

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All authors contributed extensively to the research presented in this paper. J.A. and J.X.M. co-wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jacqueline Austermann.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Austermann, J., Mitrovica, J., Latychev, K. et al. Barbados-based estimate of ice volume at Last Glacial Maximum affected by subducted plate. Nature Geosci 6, 553–557 (2013).

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