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3000 Years of Sea Level Change

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  • 1 Geology Department, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306
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Sea level change is generally taken to indicate climate change, and may be more nearly global than what we perceive to be climate change. Close to the beach, even a small sea level change (such as 1–3 m) produces important changes in local depositional conditions. This effect can be deduced from a study of properly selected beach deposits.

Various measures of beach-sand grain size indicate conditions of deposition. The best of these parameters is the kurtosis; it is a reliable indicator of surf-zone wave energy density. An abrupt energy-level shift, after centuries with little change, indicates sea level rise or drop. Kurtosis, within stated limits, shows this.

Beach ridge systems (successive, distinct old beach deposits) span the last several thousand years. A sequence of sand samples across such a deposit provides grain-size evidence for alternating high and low sea level. Changes were 1 to 3 m vertically, and took place at rates of about 1 cm yr−1 There were at least seven such events in the last 3000 years.

The two most recent changes were the drop and subsequent rise that marked the Little Ice Age (starting about 1200 A.D.). One cannot say, from these data, that the planet has come fully out of the Little Ice Age. Predictions about what sea level will do in the near future should be based on the many small changes (1 to 3 m) in the last few thousand years, rather than on the arbitrary, fictitious, and unrealistic absolute sea level that appears to underlie various popular forecasts.

Sea level change is generally taken to indicate climate change, and may be more nearly global than what we perceive to be climate change. Close to the beach, even a small sea level change (such as 1–3 m) produces important changes in local depositional conditions. This effect can be deduced from a study of properly selected beach deposits.

Various measures of beach-sand grain size indicate conditions of deposition. The best of these parameters is the kurtosis; it is a reliable indicator of surf-zone wave energy density. An abrupt energy-level shift, after centuries with little change, indicates sea level rise or drop. Kurtosis, within stated limits, shows this.

Beach ridge systems (successive, distinct old beach deposits) span the last several thousand years. A sequence of sand samples across such a deposit provides grain-size evidence for alternating high and low sea level. Changes were 1 to 3 m vertically, and took place at rates of about 1 cm yr−1 There were at least seven such events in the last 3000 years.

The two most recent changes were the drop and subsequent rise that marked the Little Ice Age (starting about 1200 A.D.). One cannot say, from these data, that the planet has come fully out of the Little Ice Age. Predictions about what sea level will do in the near future should be based on the many small changes (1 to 3 m) in the last few thousand years, rather than on the arbitrary, fictitious, and unrealistic absolute sea level that appears to underlie various popular forecasts.

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