Sea-Level changes

1
Questions:

•What causes the sea level to change
over time?
3
Geoid and sea level

• Geoid = shape of the mean sea level
- Planetary rotation (ellipsoid)
- Seafloor topography (irregularity)
 Geoid changes very slowly via plate
techtonics (>10 million years)

• Sea level = volume of seawater
- How much ocean basins are filled with seawater
- Sea level can change relatively rapidly by

(1)Changing the volume of sea water
(2)Changing the shape of ocean basin

4
1. Changing ocean volume

• Eustatic sea level change
- Changing the total mass of the ocean
- Ex. Melting of ice on land, and the melt water
runs off to the ocean

• Steric sea level change
- Changing the density of the ocean
- Ex. Heating up the seawater, and warm water
takes up more volume

5
Eustatic sea level change
• Global change
- More ice on land = Lower sea level
- Global warming and loss of ice sheets and land
glaciers (decades to centuries)
- Glacial cycles (100k years)

6
Can melting Arctic sea ice cause
global sea level rise?

Why or why not?

7
Last Glacial Maximum: 20 thousand years ago
Laurentide Ice Sheet, 3-4km thick

All this ice caused a EUSTATIC sea level drop of 125m

How do we know this?

8
Aerial view of glaciated Bylot Island, Canada

U-shaped valley

Glacial Striations

w
l Flo
ia
ac
Gl
9
OK, so we’ve mapped the extent of glaciation.

Now what?

10
Date coral samples from various paleo-sea levels.

Barbados is the “dipstick” for eustatic sea level reconstruction

Now what?

11
Corals for paleo-sea
level reconstruction

From corals we know that
LGM sea level was -125m
The world looked different during the LGM

13
Steric sea level change

• Global/regional change
- Warmer ocean = Higher sea level
- Heating up the ocean makes the seawater less
dense, and it expands to take up more volume
- A few centimeters to meters variation

14
2. Changing the shape of ocean basins

• Relative sea level change
- A change in local sea level with respect to a land
reference point
 Ex. Land uplift

• Changes in plate techtonics
- Changing thickness of ocean crust and
sediments
- Changing land crust and distribution
 Up to a few hundred meters of sea level
change (>10 million years)

15
Relative sea level change

• Local techtonic effect

- Land uplift  Lower relative sea level
- Land sinking  Higher relative sea level

16
Sea Level Changes over the timescale of
plate techtonics

17
18
19
Effects of plate tectonics
e.g. Upper Cretaceous (90 Ma) MSL > 300 m

20
21
Summary of spatial-temporal scale of
processes contributing to Mean Sea Level

(D) Plate Tectonics
MSL (meters)

100 m
(C) Melting of ICE
Load from ice sheets
deforms crust

• Thickness and area of
10 m continental crust
• Thermal state (age) of crust
• sediment loading

(A) Exchange of water with continents (Groundwater, Lakes, etc.)
(B) Temperature expansion
1m
NOTE:
A,B,C  change in volume of water
D  change in shape of container

1 cm

1 day 100 1000 100 Ka 10 Ma 100 Ma

TIME (years) 22
Other processes complicating the study of
mean sea level (ice or sediment loads)

The concept of Post Glacial Rebound:
Scandinavia is STILL bouncing back up from
glaciers that melted 10 thousand years ago !!!
23
The subsidence of the Northern Sea
(associated with relaxation from glacial loading)

Rate of change in Sea Level
mm/year

Scandinavia

Northern Sea

Great Britain

24
Geological proxy for sea level change:
18
O/16O in foraminifera
Oxygen has two stable isotopes: 16
O (99.8%) and O (0.2%)
18

Rainfall and Ice are very depleted in O (lots more
18 16
O)

So when you build ice sheets, ocean loses O, becomes
16
O-rich
18

Forams record ocean O/16O ratio in shells
18

21,000 ybp

25
26
Take-home points:

-eustatic vs. local sea level

-lots of new, young, hot crust means higher sea level;
tectonic changes on 10-100Ma timescales  Wilson cycle

-glacial cycles have several impacts on sea level:
1) ice sheets remove water  lower sea level
2) glacial loading/unloading reshapes crust under
and surrounding ice sheets
- changes occur on 10-100ky timescales

-tools for studying sea level change through geologic time:
1) radiocarbon-date marine shells & corals found at
known elevation (above MSL) and depth (below MSL)
2) deep-sea sediment 18O record

27