Revisiting Tectonic Corrections Applied to Pleistocene Sea-Level Highstands
Monday, 14 December 2015: 09:30
3014 (Moscone West)
The robustness of stratigraphic- and geomorphic-based inferences of Quaternary peak interglacial sea levels — and equivalent minimum continental ice volumes — depends on the accuracy with which highstand markers can be corrected for vertical tectonic displacement. For sites that preserve a Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e sea-level highstand marker, the customary method for estimating tectonic uplift/subsidence rate computes the difference between the local elevation of the highstand marker and a reference eustatic (i.e., global mean) MIS 5e sea-level height, typically assumed to be +6 m, and then divides this height difference by the age of the highstand marker. This rate is then applied to correct the elevation of other observed sea-level markers at that site for tectonic displacement. Subtracting a reference eustatic value from a local MIS 5e highstand marker elevation introduces two potentially significant errors. First, the commonly adopted peak eustatic MIS 5e sea-level value (i.e., +6 m) is likely too low; recent studies concluded that MIS 5e peak eustatic sea level was ~6–9 m. Second, local peak MIS 5e sea level was not globally uniform, but instead characterized by significant departures from eustasy due to glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) in response to successive glacial–interglacial cycles and excess polar ice-sheet melt relative to present day. We present numerical models of GIA that incorporate both of these effects in order to quantify the plausible range in error of previous tectonic corrections. We demonstrate that, even far from melting ice sheets, local peak MIS 5e sea level may have departed from eustasy by 2–4 m, or more. Thus, adopting an assumed reference eustatic value to estimate tectonic displacement, rather than a site-specific GIA signal, can introduce significant error in estimates of peak eustatic sea level (and minimum ice volumes) during Quaternary highstands (e.g., MIS 11, MIS 5c and MIS 5a).