Late Holocene sea-level changes and vertical land movements in New Zealand

Daniel J. King*, Rewi M. Newnham, W. Roland Gehrels, Kate J. Clark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Coasts in tectonically active regions face varying threat levels as land subsides or uplifts relative to rising sea levels. We review the processes influencing relative sea-level change in New Zealand, and the geological context behind ongoing land movements, focussing on major population centres. Whilst Holocene sea levels have been reconstructed using a variety of techniques, recent work uses salt-marsh microfossil assemblages to reconstruct relative sea-level changes over the past few centuries. For the twentieth century, these proxy-based studies often show enhanced rates of sea-level rise relative to tide-gauge observations. The effects of tectonic subsidence must be considered, alongside vertical and dating uncertainties in the sea-level reconstructions. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) observations for the past few decades show that vertical land movement (VLM) may be influencing rates of relative sea-level rise. However, the short period of GPS observations, during which trends and rates have varied at some localities, raises questions over the longer-term contribution of VLM to sea-level change over the past few centuries and for future projections. We argue that high-resolution palaeo-sea-level reconstructions from salt-marsh sedimentary sequences can help to answer these questions regarding the interplay between sea-level change and VLM at key locations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics
Early online date18 May 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 May 2020

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  • climate change
  • Holocene
  • New Zealand
  • palaeoclimate
  • palaeoenvironment
  • palaeoseismicity
  • Sea level
  • sea-level rise
  • tectonics
  • vertical land movement

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