New Data Analysis: Glacier Size & Sea Level May Change Rapidly
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New analysis of the first Great Barrier Reef samples covering the time 22,000 to 19,000 years ago was providing valuable insights for climate models and ice sheet dynamics, with the help of additional details to that time period. Associate Professor Jody Webster of the University of Sydney was part of the research team led by Professor Yusuke Yokoyama of the University of Tokyo which divided the Last Glacial Maximum into two distinct periods:
- Period A: 30,000 to 21,500 years ago, the sea level was relatively stable
- Period B: 21,000 to 17,000 years ago, the sea level was unstable with large, rapid fluctuations
The lead author of the research paper published in Nature on July 26, 2018, Professor Yokoyama, said, “This challenges the paradigm that glacier size can only change slowly, because rapid sea level changes mean water must melt or freeze rapidly.”
21,000 years ago, the rapid drop in sea level observed was particularly striking because it contradicted the current understanding of this period. The rapid shifts in the size of the ancient glaciers were very significant with regard to modern climate change and its impacts.
A team of reef scientists from Spain, Japan, and the United States, led by Associate Professor Jody Webster from the University of Sydney interpreted ecological data tracking reef habitat depth, and therefore relative sea level, over time. This information combined with radiometric data and used by Professor Yokoyama and his team to model fluctuations in the vertical position of the seafloor caused by changes in water or ice volume. The combined results clarified ice sheet dynamics during the poorly understood Last Glacial Maximum period.
Associate Professor Webster said, “Fossil coral reefs were very sensitive to environmental changes, so by examining the biological assemblages in the cores we were able to reconstruct how ancient water depths changed through time.”
Professor Yokoyama added, “Current models of glaciers dynamics may be too conservative. The possibility of rapid increases or decreases in sea level should be considered.”
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Gathered, written, and posted by Windermere Sun-Susan Sun Nunamaker
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