Sea level in time and space: Revolutions and inconvenient truths

W. Roland Gehrels*, Ian Shennan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we identify four 'revolutions' that in our view have shaped the study of sea-level changes in recent decades. (i) The search for 'eustasy'. One of the most hotly debated issues in the 1960s is still relevant as models of glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) require input of the amount of meltwater transferred to the world's oceans following the demise of the large Pleistocene ice sheets. (ii) Resolution of sea-level archives. All sea-level archives have limitations in their resolving power but are we willing to define these? From studies of salt-marsh deposits and corals it is highly likely that climate-driven metre-scale sea-level fluctuations have not occurred during the middle and late Holocene. (iii) Rapid sea-level changes. Improved coring technology has resulted in the suggestion of meltwater pulses during the last deglaciation. Low-frequency high-magnitude events have been documented along seismically active shorelines and provide information on seismic hazards and storm impacts. (iv) Merging of empirical sea-level investigations and models. Much sea-level research in the past two decades has embraced the integration of models and field-derived data, providing testable hypotheses and insights into processes. We conclude with some reminders about the 'inconvenient truths' that keep the sea-level scientist honest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-143
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


  • Data-model integration
  • Eustasy
  • Glacial isostatic adjustment
  • Holocene
  • Meltwater pulses

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