Abstract

Elevations and ages of drowned Acropora palmata reefs from the Caribbean-Atlantic region document three catastrophic, metre-scale sea-level–rise events during the last deglaciation. These catastrophic rises were synchronous with (1) collapse of the Laurentide and Antarctic ice sheets, (2) dramatic reorganization of ocean-atmosphere circulation, and (3) releases of huge volumes of subglacial and proglacial meltwater. This correlation suggests that release of stored meltwater periodically destabilized ice sheets, causing them to collapse and send huge fleets of icebergs into the Atlantic. Massive inputs of ice not only produced catastrophic sea-level rise, drowning reefs and destabilizing other ice sheets, but also rapidly reduced the elevation of the Laurentide ice sheet, flipping atmospheric circulation patterns and forcing warm equatorial waters into the frigid North Atlantic. Such dramatic evidence of catastrophic climate and sea-level change during deglaciation has potentially disastrous implications for the future, especially as the stability of remaining ice sheets—such as in West Antarctica—is in question.

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