Emerged Pliocene and Pleistocene shorelines and associated marine deposits were used to determine the magnitude and rate of vertical crustal movement during the past 3 m.y. in the United States Atlantic Coastal Plain of South and North Carolina. On the basis of a new regional ostracode assemblage zonation, planktic biostratigraphic data, and radiometric data, emerged marine deposits were determined to be primarily interglacial and can tentatively be correlated with hemispheric warm intervals in evidence from deep-sea data.
The paleontologic evidence indicates a primary glacio-eustatic component to the local sea-level record and a secondary tectonic component. Net vertical uplift rates averaging 1 to 3 cm/1,000 yr, but perhaps as high as 5 to 10 cm/1,000 yr, are in evidence for the emerged Coastal Plain. Although details of the timing of regional rheological events remain obscure, the trend of net uplift contrasts with general subsidence rates of about 2 to 4 cm/1,000 yr since the Cretaceous in submerged parts of the continental margin near subsiding sedimentary troughs. Hydro-isostatic crustal response to multiple deglaciation events may have periodically uplifted the coast, but long-term lithospheric flexural upwarping in response to sediment loading offshore is a more plausible mechanism to explain the present positions of shorelines above present mean sea level. A eustatic sea-level model is proposed for interglacial high stands of the past 3.0 m.y.