Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New coral dating method hints at possible future sea-level changes

12.09.2011
New evidence of sea-level oscillations during a warm period that started about 125,000 years ago raises the possibility of a similar scenario if the planet continues its more recent warming trend, says a research team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

In a paper published online in the Sept. 11 Nature Geoscience, the researchers report data from an improved method of dating fossil coral reef skeletons in the Bahamas. By calculating more accurate ages for the coral samples than previously possible, they found that sea levels were considerably less stable than earlier believed--oscillating up and down by 4 to 6 meters (13-20 feet) over a few thousand years about 120,000 years ago during a period known as the Last Interglacial.

"This was the last time that climate was as warm as—or warmer than—today," said WHOI geochronologist William G. Thompson, lead author of the study. "If today's ice sheets continue to melt, we may be headed for a period of ice sheet and sea-level change that is more dynamic than current observations of ice sheets suggest."

The polar ice caps currently are shrinking and sea level is rising at a rate of about 30 centimeters (one foot) per century. "How much sea level will rise over the next century or two is a crucial question for the significant part of the world's population that lives in coastal zones," Thompson said.

A better understanding of sea-level change in the past can help to inform predictions for the future. Historical records such as those from tide gauges extend back only a century or so. "The geological record offers a longer perspective on rates of change," Thompson said, "and sea-level changes during previous warm intervals are especially relevant to today's situation." Sea levels during the Last Interglacial are known to have been about 6 meters (20 feet) higher, on average, than they are today. "The real surprise is that sea levels were oscillating during this period."

To get more accurate age estimates from the geological record, Thompson developed an advanced way of interpreting the uranium and thorium isotope ratios that have been traditionally used as a coral dating method. Until now, scientists attempting to date Last Interglacial coral reefs concluded erroneously that sea level was relatively stable during this period. "Our analysis of Last Interglacial fossil reef ages represents a breakthrough in our understanding of U-Th coral dating, leading to improved chronologies of past sea-level change," Thompson said.

Thompson teamed up with colleagues H. Allen Curran and Brian White of Smith College, and Mark A. Wilson of the College of Wooster, experts on the key Bahamas fossil coral sites. "The geologic evidence for sea-level change at these sites is convincing," said Curran, "but we couldn't absolutely prove sea-level oscillation without more precise dating."

Because coral reefs grow near the sea surface, they are accurate markers of former sea levels. Two fossil reefs are evident at the Bahamas sites, separated by an erosional surface that was cut by wave action. The first reef grew when sea levels were about 4 meters (13 feet) higher than today. "The fall of sea-level is indicated by the wave-cut erosion of this first reef," said Wilson, "and the second sea-level rise was recorded by the growth of new corals on this eroded surface. The dating of fossil corals below and above this erosional surface, using our new methods, reveals important details about the timing of sea-level change that were previously obscured."

The finding of a significant sea-level oscillation 120,000 years ago is in sharp contrast to the last 5,000 years, where sea level has been relatively stable. "It appears that the smaller ice sheets of the Last Interglacial were significantly less stable than today's ice sheets," Thompson said.

Should the current warming trend continue, Thompson said, a scenario similar to that of the Last Interglacial could result. "Variable sea level during the Last Interglacial points to instability in the polar ice sheets, which were somewhat smaller than today. If changing climate leads to smaller ice sheets in the future, this may provoke similar instability."

The work was supported by the WHOI Ocean and Climate Change Institute, the Comer Science and Education Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean's role in the changing global environment.

Media Relations | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.whoi.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>