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Durham University

Sea Level Research Unit (SLRU)

Global sea-level change

Our research in this area develops and applies a wide range of methods of palaeo-environmental reconstruction (field, laboratory, microfossil, isotopic, experimental and analytical techniques) with a range of modelling approaches to understand earth / ice sheet / ocean / sea level / climate interactions since the Last Glacial Maximum and particularly during the last thousand years.

Much of the work on millennial-scale sea-level changes involves high resolution relative sea-level reconstructions based on lake isolation data. These lakes were once below sea-level but have been uplifted from the sea by glacio-isostatic rebound. By coring them and examining their sediment for diatoms and other environmental proxies, it is possible to reconstruct the spatial and temporal pattern of uplift and deglacial history of a region. Recent projects include near-field locations (those deglaciated since the Last Glacial Maximum) in Antarctica, west and northwest Scotland, Greenland, Iceland and Norway).

A second area of research is understanding large scale sea-level change by investigating locations far away from the Last Glacial Maximum ice masses (far-field locations) such as sites in the Indian Ocean and Australia. Studies using a range of proxies in these locations (e.g. mangrove microfossils, coral microatolls, encrusting oysters) tell us about the integrated melt signal from the polar ice sheets since the LGM. One particular theme is to use far-field records to increase our understanding of late Holocene ice melt, important in improving estimates of global meltwater discharge in the pre-industrial period.

Combination of global models of glacial isostatic adjustment with sea-level records from near-field and far-field locations, some covering more than 16,000 years, provide quantitative limits on rapid sea-level rise and global meltwater discharge in terms of timing, magnitude and source.

Selected Publications

Shennan, I., Hamilton, S., Hillier, C., Hunter, A., Woodall, R., Bradley, S., Milne, G., Brooks, A. & Bassett, S., 2006. Relative sea-level observations in western Scotland since the Last Glacial Maximum for testing models of glacial isostatic land movements and ice-sheet reconstructions. Journal of Quaternary Science, 21, 601-613.

Woodroffe, S. A. 2009.  Testing models of mid-late Holocene relative sea-level change, North Queensland, Australia. Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 2474-2488.