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 Mountain glaciers shrinking across the West
23.10.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht Climate change weakens Walker circulation
20.10.2017 | MARUM - Zentrum für Marine Umweltwissenschaften an der Universität Bremen

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Salmonella as a tumour medication

HZI researchers developed a bacterial strain that can be used in cancer therapy

Salmonellae are dangerous pathogens that enter the body via contaminated food and can cause severe infections. But these bacteria are also known to target...

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

3rd Symposium on Driving Simulation

23.10.2017 | Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microfluidics probe 'cholesterol' of the oil industry

23.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Gamma rays will reach beyond the limits of light

23.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

The end of pneumonia? New vaccine offers hope

23.10.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>