Abstract

There has been geographical variation in sea level since rapid postglacial melting of polar ice ceased ∼6 k.y. ago, reflecting isostatic adjustments of Earth and ocean surfaces to past (and ongoing) redistribution of ice and water loads. A new data set of over 100 fossil microatolls from Christmas (Kiritimati) Island provides a Holocene sea-level record of unparalleled continuity. Living reef-flat corals grow up to a low-tide level. Adjacent fossil microatolls, long-lived Porites corals up to several meters in diameter, occur at similar elevations (±0.1 m), and extensive fossil microatolls in the island interior are at consistent elevations within each population. Collectively, they comprise an almost continuous sequence spanning the past 5 k.y., indicating that, locally, sea level has been within 0.25 m of its present position, and precluding global sea-level oscillations of one or more meters inferred from less stable locations, or using other sea-level indicators. This mid-Pacific atoll is tectonically stable and far from former ice sheets. The precisely surveyed and radiometrically dated microatolls indicate that sea level has not experienced significant oscillations, in accordance with geophysical modeling, which implies that the eustatic contribution from past ice melt and the isostatic adjustment of the ocean floor to loading largely cancel each other at this site.

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