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Oceanic forcing of penultimate deglacial and last interglacial sea-level rise

Abstract

Sea-level histories during the two most recent deglacial–interglacial intervals show substantial differences1,2,3 despite both periods undergoing similar changes in global mean temperature4,5 and forcing from greenhouse gases6. Although the last interglaciation (LIG) experienced stronger boreal summer insolation forcing than the present interglaciation7, understanding why LIG global mean sea level may have been six to nine metres higher than today has proven particularly challenging2. Extensive areas of polar ice sheets were grounded below sea level during both glacial and interglacial periods, with grounding lines and fringing ice shelves extending onto continental shelves8. This suggests that oceanic forcing by subsurface warming may also have contributed to ice-sheet loss9,10,11,12 analogous to ongoing changes in the Antarctic13,14 and Greenland15 ice sheets. Such forcing would have been especially effective during glacial periods, when the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) experienced large variations on millennial timescales16, with a reduction of the AMOC causing subsurface warming throughout much of the Atlantic basin9,12,17. Here we show that greater subsurface warming induced by the longer period of reduced AMOC during the penultimate deglaciation can explain the more-rapid sea-level rise compared with the last deglaciation. This greater forcing also contributed to excess loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets during the LIG, causing global mean sea level to rise at least four metres above modern levels. When accounting for the combined influences of penultimate and LIG deglaciation on glacial isostatic adjustment, this excess loss of polar ice during the LIG can explain much of the relative sea level recorded by fossil coral reefs and speleothems at intermediate- and far-field sites.

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Fig. 1: Sea-level change and climate forcings during the penultimate (left) and last (right) deglaciations.
Fig. 2: Sea-level change and climate forcings during the last and present interglaciations.
Fig. 3: Simulations of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.
Fig. 4: Predictions of RSL at four far-field sites.

Data availability

Antarctic bedrock topography and ice thickness data are from the BEDMAP2 compilation, available at https://secure.antarctica.ac.uk/data/bedmap2/. Greenland topography and ice thickness data are from BedMachine v3, available at https://nsidc.org/data/idbmg4. Greenland mass balance and geothermal heat flux data are available from the seaRISE website: http://websrv.cs.umt.edu/isis/index.php/Data. Information on the Antarctic surface mass balance data is available at http://www.projects.science.uu.nl/iceclimate/models/antarctica.php#racmo23. Antarctic geothermal heat flux data are available at the Open Science Framework https://doi.pangaea.de/10.1594/PANGAEA.882503. The datasets generated and used for this study (Figs. 14, Extended Data Figs. 39) are available from the Open Science Framework (https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/FX7WK).

Code availability

CCSM3 is freely available as open-source code from http://www.cesm.ucar.edu/models/ccsm3.0/. PISM is freely available as open-source code from https://github.com/pism/pism.git.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) through grant numbers AGS-1503032 (to P.U.C.), AGS-1502990 (to F.H.) OCE-1702684 (to J.X.M.) and 1559040 (to A.D.); the NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship programme, administered by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (to F.H.); contract number VUW1501 from the Royal Society Te Aparangi with support from the Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington (to N.R.G.); contract number CO5X1001 to GNS Science from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (to N.R.G.); and Harvard University (J.X.M.). We acknowledge high-performance computing support from Yellowstone (ark:/85065/d7wd3xhc) provided by NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, sponsored by the NSF. This research used resources of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract number DE-AC05-00OR22725. PISM is supported by NASA grant numbers NNX13AM16G and NNX13AK27G. We thank J. Box, C. Buizert and A. Orsi for discussions.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

F.H. performed the general circulation modelling. N.R.G. performed the ice-sheet modelling. J.X.M. performed the sea-level modelling with help from S.D. P.U.C., A.D. and J.S.H. performed the data analysis. P.U.C., F.H., N.R.G. and J.X.M. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and contributed towards improving the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter U. Clark.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature thanks Paul Valdes and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Climate and sea-level records for T-II and T-I.

a, εNd records from the North Atlantic Ocean as proxies of AMOC transport16,83. b, CCSM3 maximum AMOC transport (below 500 m) (this study). c, EPICA Dome C δD record on AICC2012 age model as proxy of Antarctic temperature84 (blue line) and percentage of warm planktonic foraminiferal species as proxy of North Atlantic sea surface temperatures83 (grey line). d, δ18O record from Chinese stalagmite as proxy of Asian monsoon strength18. e, Rate of sea-level change derived from an RSL reconstruction based on benthic foraminifera isotopes1. f, A stack of North Atlantic ice-rafted debris records recording H1183,85,86,87. g, εNd (ref. 88; brown, orange symbols) and Pa/Th (ref. 89; purple, green symbols, 1σ uncertainty) records from the North Atlantic Ocean as proxies of AMOC. h, CCSM3 maximum AMOC transport (below 500 m) (this study). i, EPICA Dome C δD record on the AICC2012 age model (dark blue line)84 as proxy of Antarctic temperature and a temperature reconstruction from the Greenland GISP2 ice core (light blue line)70. j, δ18O record from a Chinese stalagmite as proxy of Asian monsoon strength18. k, Rate of sea-level change derived from an RSL reconstruction based on benthic foraminifera isotopes1. l, A stack of North Atlantic IRD records that log H190.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Sea-level records for the last two terminations and interglaciations.

a, Sea-level reconstructions for the penultimate deglaciation and the LIG (the latter identified by the grey-shaded area). The eustatic sea-level record is based on benthic foraminifera isotopes (blue line with 1σ uncertainty)1 and the RSL record is based on Red Sea isotopes (grey crosses; green line, 1-kyr moving Gaussian filter)34 placed on a revised age model91. Also shown are RSL data from U-series dated corals at Tahiti (sky blue circles)92, the Huon Peninsula (light blue–green circle; altered samples shown by grey circles)93, the Seychelles (light green circles)25, western Australia (blue circles)24 and the Bahamas (cyan circles)24. All of the U-series ages have been recalculated to normalize them with the same set of decay constants for 234U and 230Th (ref. 94) and are shown with 2σ age uncertainty. We note that the offset between the Red Sea record (green line) and the benthic foraminifera record (blue line) may reflect the complex three-dimensional Earth structure in the vicinity of the Red Sea rift95,96. The variability in the Red Sea and Huon Peninsula RSL records may reflect a sea-level reversal at ~137 ka (ref. 91), which, if it existed, was too small to be recorded by the benthic foraminiferal record. The rate of sea-level change based on the benthic foraminiferal record is also shown. b, Sea-level reconstructions for the last deglaciation and the present interglaciation (the latter identified by the grey-shaded area). The record of global mean sea level is based on benthic foraminifera isotopes (blue line with 1σ uncertainty)1. Also shown are individual sea-level estimates (black circles, 2σ uncertainty) that have been corrected for glacial isostatic adjustment97. The rate of sea-level change based on the benthic foraminiferal record is also shown. c, Top, eustatic sea-level reconstructions for the penultimate deglaciation (blue line with 1σ uncertainty) and the last deglaciation (black line with 1σ uncertainty)1. Bottom, 21 June insolation for 65° N for the penultimate deglaciation (blue line) and the last deglaciation (black line)7.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Comparison of our FW forcing during T-II with other estimates.

a, Our simulated changes in AMOC. b, Our FW forcing. c, Reconstruction of the FW flux from sea-level reconstructions from Waelbroeck et al.1. d, Reconstruction of FW flux from sea-level reconstructions from Marino et al.3. e, Our stack of IRD for H11 (Extended Data Fig. 1), which shows that the H11 interval of iceberg discharge is in good agreement with the timing of our FW forcing. f, The sea-level change associated with our FW flux into the North Atlantic (grey line), the sea-level change associated with the ICE-5G ice sheets33 used as a boundary condition in our climate model (green line) and a reconstruction of global sea-level change1 (blue line with 1σ uncertainty). The timing of sea-level change in the ICE-5G time series shown here was adjusted from its chronology for T-I by adjusting the corresponding sea-level rise to closely follow the sea-level reconstructions from Waelbroeck et al.1 and Grant et al.34 for the penultimate deglaciation.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Maps of the evolution of temperature at 400 m water depth in the North Atlantic, Arctic and Southern oceans between 138 ka and 124 ka relative to the temperature at 140 ka.

ah, Maps of the evolution of temperature at 400 m water depth in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans for 140–138 ka (a), 140–136 ka (b), 140–134 ka (c), 140–132 ka (d), 140–130 ka (e), 140–128 ka (f), 140–126 ka (g) and 140–124 ka (h). ip, Maps of the evolution of temperature at 400 m water depth in the Southern Ocean for 140–138 ka (i), 140–136 ka (j), 140–134 ka (k), 140–132 ka (l), 140–130 ka (m), 140–128 ka (n), 140–126 ka (o) and 140–124 ka (p).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Predicted topography for the area covered by the Scandinavian Ice Sheet at 131 ka.

The calculation is based on the LAM ice history (see text) and an Earth model characterized by a lithosphere of 100 km thickness, an upper mantle viscosity of 3 × 1020 Pa s and a lower mantle viscosity of 5 × 1022 Pa s. The white zone in a represents the coverage of grounded ice extent at this time and the dashed white line on this frame is the shoreline location. b, As for a, except the area of ice coverage is removed. It is clear from a that all but the southeast section of the perimeter of the Scandinavian ice sheet is predicted to be marine-based at this time, and from b that much of the interior of the ice sheet was also marine-based.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Results of sensitivity tests to oceanic forcing of the GrIS and AIS.

a, Response of the GrIS to atmospheric forcing from CCSM3 with fixed ocean temperatures for the PGM (blue line) and LIG (orange line) compared with the ice-sheet response to atmospheric and oceanic forcing (black line). The present-day interglacial ice volume shown by horizontal dashed line. b, Response of the AIS to atmospheric forcing from CCSM3 with fixed ocean temperatures for the PGM (blue line) and for the LIG (orange line) compared to ice-sheet response to atmospheric and oceanic forcing (black line). Present interglacial ice volume shown by the horizontal dashed line. c, As in a, but the vertical scale (grounded ice volume) has been increased to better illustrate the response. The initial ice-sheet size used in this experiment (and the comparable one for Antarctica) was the LIG ice sheet, whereas the climate forcing used was for the penultimate deglaciation and the LIG: that is, from a colder-than-present to LIG climate, resulting in a small response to the atmospheric forcing, as the LIG ice-sheet size had already adjusted to the combined atmospheric and oceanic forcing, as shown by the black line in a.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Predictions of RSL at three far-field sites (the Seychelles, Western Australia and Mallorca) and one intermediate-field site (the Bahamas).

ad, RSL predictions for the Bahamas from the full suite of simulations that bound from above all of the coral data with the exception of the earliest datum (at ~131 ka) for the COL ice history (a), the LAM ice history (b), the HYB ice history (c) and the WAE ice history (d). eh, RSL predictions for the Seychelles from the full suite of simulations that lie above the three coral records with an elevation of ~4 m for the COL ice history (e), the LAM ice history (f), the HYB ice history (g) and the WAE ice history (h). il, RSL predictions for western Australia from the full suite of simulations that bound from above all of the coral data for the COL ice history (i), the LAM ice history (j), the HYB ice history (k) and the WAE ice history (l). The age uncertainty is 2σ, and the depth uncertainty reflects the uncertainty in habitat depth. mp, RSL predictions for Mallorca from the full suite of simulations that fit the data within 50% of the minimum misfit achieved for all simulations for the COL ice history (m), the LAM ice history (n), the HYB ice history (o) and the WAE ice history (p). The age uncertainty is 2σ, and the depth uncertainty reflects the uncertainty in speleothem water depth.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Sensitivity of the GrIS model to melt parameterization.

a, Time series of tuning experiments for the GrIS with the preferred run in blue and three runs used for bd shown in green, orange, and red. bd, Surface elevation differences under a present-day climatology at the end of the 40,000-yr T-I parameter tuning experiments, using degree-day factors drawn from our ensemble that give a low amount of surface melting (b), a medium amount of surface melting (c), and a high amount of surface melting (d). Values shown are the differences from the reference experiment. These experiments are identical to the T-I reference experiment used to parameterize the T-II simulations (Fig. 3) except for the degree-day factors used. The results show that our ice-sheet model is sensitive to the way in which surface mass balance is parameterized by controlling the amount of surface melting.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Simulated ice-volume changes and components of the mass balance for the GrIS.

a, Simulated changes in ice volume for T-I. b, Simulated changes in mass-balance components for T-I. c, Simulated changes in ice volume for T-II. d, Simulated changes in mass-balance components for T-II. e, Modelled surface mass balance anomaly during the LIG (129–120 ka) with respect to the modelled present-day mass balance.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Comparison of our simulated summer temperature for Greenland ice-core sites with the temperature reconstructions for these sites based on δ18Oice.

a, The simulated summer temperature (JJA) (grey line) and lapse-rate corrected JJA temperature (green line) compared with reconstructed temperatures for the GISP2 ice-core site (blue symbols, 1σ uncertainty)66,73 based on the relation dδ18Oice/dT = ~0.5‰ C−1, which is derived from Greenland ice-core sites elsewhere74. Also shown are the reconstructed temperatures using the dδ18Oice/dT relation established for the NEEM site (~1.1‰ C−1)75 (red symbols, 1σ uncertainty), suggesting that the GISP2 LIG summer temperatures are about half of the originally published values based on the Vinther et al.7418Oice/dT relation and in good agreement with our model results. b, The simulated JJA temperature (grey line) and lapse-rate corrected JJA temperature (green line) compared with reconstructed temperatures for the NEEM ice-core site (dark blue line, grey shading is uncertainty)65 based on the relation dδ18Oice/dT = ~0.5‰ C−1 which is derived from Greenland ice-core sites elsewhere74. Also shown are the reconstructed temperatures using the dδ18Oice/dT relation established for the NEEM site (~1.1‰ C−1)75 (red line, pink shading is uncertainty), suggesting that the NEEM LIG summer temperatures are about half of the originally published values based on the Vinther et al.7418Oice/dT relation and in good agreement with our model results. These reconstructions span the interval 127–120 ka, which is the warmest interval in the ice-core records for the LIG suggested by this proxy.

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Clark, P.U., He, F., Golledge, N.R. et al. Oceanic forcing of penultimate deglacial and last interglacial sea-level rise. Nature 577, 660–664 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-1931-7

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