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A highly resolved record of relative sea level in the western Mediterranean Sea during the last interglacial period

Nature Geoscience (2018) | Download Citation


The magnitude and trajectory of sea-level change during marine isotope stage (MIS) 5e of the last interglacial period is uncertain. In general, sea level may have been 6–9 m above present sea level, with one or more oscillations of up to several metres superimposed. Here we present a well-dated relative sea-level record from the island of Mallorca in the western Mediterranean Sea for MIS-5e, based on the occurrence of phreatic overgrowths on speleothems forming near sea level. We find that relative sea-level in this region was within a range of 2.15 ± 0.75 m above present levels between 126,600 ± 400 and 116,000 ± 800 years ago, although centennial-scale excursions cannot be excluded due to some gaps in the speleothem record. We corrected our relative sea-level record for glacio-isostatic adjustment using nine different glacial isostatic models. Together, these models suggest that ice-equivalent sea-level in Mallorca peaked at the start of MIS-5e then gradually decreased and stabilized by 122,000 years ago, until the highstand termination 116,000 years ago. Our sea-level record does not support the hypothesis of rapid sea-level fluctuations within MIS-5e. Instead, we suggest that melting of the polar ice sheets occurred early in the interglacial period, followed by gradual ice-sheet growth.

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The data that support the findings reported in this study are available in the Supplementary Information and from the corresponding author upon request.

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A collaborative NSF grant (AGS 1103108) to B.P.O. at the University of South Florida, V.J.P. at the University of New Mexico and J.A.D. at the University of Iowa primarily funded this research. Underwater sampling was carried out by F. Gràcia. Sampling and fieldwork costs were covered by MINECO grants CGL 2013-48441-P and CGL2016-79246-P (AEI/FEDER, UE) to J.J.F. Analyses were also funded in part by NSF grants ATM-0703353 (to Y.A. and V.J.P.) and EAR-0326902 (to Y.A. and others). This paper benefited from discussions at the NSF- and PAGES-sponsored workshop on ‘Sea-level changes into MIS 5: from observation to prediction’. The authors would like to thank J. X. Mitrovica for the GIA models.

Author information


  1. Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

    • Victor J. Polyak
    •  & Yemane Asmerom
  2. School of Geosciences, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA

    • Bogdan P. Onac
  3. Emil Racoviță Institute of Speleology, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

    • Bogdan P. Onac
  4. Grup de Ciències de la Terra, Universitat de les Illes Balears, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

    • Joan J. Fornós
    • , Joaquín Ginés
    •  & Angel Ginés
  5. Earth & Environmental Sciences, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA

    • Carling Hay
  6. Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA

    • Jeffrey A. Dorale
  7. Dipartimento di Scienze, Università Roma Tre, Rome, Italy

    • Paola Tuccimei


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A.G., J.G., J.J.F., B.P.O., P.T. and J.A.D. advanced the concepts of POS as accurate sea-level markers. A.G., J.G., J.J.F. and B.P.O. collected the samples and measured the POS elevations. Y.A., V.J.P. and P.T. measured the U-series ages of POS samples. C.H. produced the GIA curves. V.J.P. and B.P.O. drafted and wrote the majority of the manuscript and produced the figures. All authors contributed to the concepts and manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Victor J. Polyak.

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