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Climate-forced sea-level lowstands in the Indian Ocean during the last two millennia

Matters Arising to this article was published on 22 April 2021


Sea-level reconstructions over the past two millennia provide a pre-industrial context to assess whether the magnitude and rate of modern sea-level change is unprecedented. Sea-level records from the Indian Ocean over the past 2,000 years are sparse, while records from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans show variations less than 0.25 m and no significant negative excursions. Here, we present evidence of two low sea-level phases in the Maldives, Indian Ocean, based on fossil coral microatolls. Microatoll growth is constrained by low water levels and, consequently, they are robust recorders of past sea level. U–Th dating of the Maldivian corals identified lowstands at ad 234–605 and ad 1481–1807 when sea level fell to maximum depths of −0.88 m and −0.89 m respectively. These lowstands are synchronous with reductions in radiative forcing and sea surface temperature associated with the Late Antiquity Little Ice Age and the Little Ice Age. Our results provide high-fidelity observations of lower sea levels during these cool periods and show rates of change of up to 4.24 mm yr−1. Our data also confirm the acceleration of relative sea-level rise over the past two centuries and suggest that the current magnitude and rate of sea-level rise is not unprecedented.

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Fig. 1: Field location and Holocene sea-level history of the Maldives archipelago, Indian Ocean.
Fig. 2: Reconstructed sea level in the central Indian Ocean and global paleoclimate variability over the past 2,500 years.

Data availability

The data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information files.


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We thank LaMer Group and the Small Island Research Centre, Fares-Maathodaa, Huvadhoo atoll for logistical support, Government of the Maldives for research permission and A. Vila-Concejo, E. Beetham and T. Turner for field assistance. X.W. acknowledges funding support from the National Research Foundation of Singapore (grant nos. NRF2017NRF-NSFC001-047 and NRF-NRFF2011-08) and the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



P.K. conceived the project. P.K., R.M., S.O., E.R. and K.M. undertook fieldwork. X.W. and L.K. performed U–Th dating. K.R. undertook GIA modelling of field location. P.K., R.M. and S.O. led manuscript development and interpretation. All authors contributed to manuscript revision.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul S. Kench.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary Handling Editor: James Super.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–3, Field Setting and Tables 1–4.

Supplementary Dataset 1

230Th dates of microatoll samples from southern Maldives.

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Kench, P.S., McLean, R.F., Owen, S.D. et al. Climate-forced sea-level lowstands in the Indian Ocean during the last two millennia. Nat. Geosci. 13, 61–64 (2020).

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