Jun 5, 2012
Exceptional Rise in Ancient Sea Levels Revealed
A spectacular rise
The research has primarily confirmed the existence of this exceptional event, which had been controversial in some regards. Its chronology, amplitude and duration have now been defined. It began precisely 14,650 years ago and coincides with the start of the warm period known as the 'Bølling oscillation', which marked the end of the ice age. The rise in sea levels at that time was an average of 14m worldwide, over less than 350 years. This corresponds to a rate of 40mm per year -- compared to the 3mm per year we are currently experiencing.
Coral: a climate archive
To describe this remarkable event, researchers analysed cores taken from the coral reef surrounding Tahiti, Polynesia, during the international IODP 310 'Tahiti Sea Level'(4) expedition. The corals that built these reefs and atolls are excellent indicators of sea level variation* and also provide a virtual archive of previous climates(5).
Using reconstructions of sea levels from the fossilised corals as well as geophysical simulations, scientists have been able to identify the source of this accelerated rise in sea levels. They have demonstrated that the Antarctic ice cap was responsible for up to 50% of these increases. Experts had previously believed that only melting ice from the Northern hemisphere had contributed to Melt-Water Pulse 1A, particularly the Laurentide ice cap that covered a large part of North America.
To demonstrate the mechanisms occurring, the research team compared the rise in water levels in Polynesia with those observed during a previous research expedition to Barbados, in the Caribbean. According to the previously accepted hypothesis, the amplitude of the increase in sea levels must have been twice as large in Tahiti than in Barbados, which was closer to the Laurentide ice cap. And yet, the study showed that the rise was equivalent in these two locations, implying a highly significant role played by the Antarctic ice cap.
A modified global climate
These studies have shed new light on the complex relationship between climate, ocean circulation and sea levels. By demonstrating the synchronicity between Melt Water Pulse 1A and the warming of the Bølling oscillation, they have specifically demonstrated the part played by the massive oceanic inflow of fresh water in planetary deglaciation. This almost certainly caused major disturbances to thermohaline circulation(6) in the global ocean, which itself had a discernable impact on the global climate. This study also demonstrates the complex reaction of the ice caps to a major climactic disturbance, particularly for the potential instability of the Antarctic ice cap.
From past to present…
These results are highly important with regard to the current rise in sea levels, which is one of the most worrying effects of global warming dating from the start of the industrial era. In the past century, marigraphic data have suggested that ocean levels have risen by between 1.5 and 2mm per year. More recently, altimetry satellites have demonstrate an average global rise of 3.3mm per year over the past two decades. Although the estimates of their respective contributions are still being studied, it is clear that the thermal expansion of the oceans, in addition to melting polar ice caps and mountain glaciers, are the major causes.
Read more at Science Daily