Possible factors responsible for world-wide sea level changes are reviewed. The major causes are variations in the volume of land ice and changes in oceanic ridge systems, with sediment accumulation in the oceans and desiccation of isolated basins producing second-order effects. Alterations in effective water volume (by ice sheet growth or desiccation) are much faster than changes in ocean basin capacity, but the latter are considered likely to be the cause of long-term trends, which are ultimately related to the history of mantle convection.

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