Theses Doctoral

Geochronology and reconstruction of Quaternary and Neogene sea-level highstands

Sandstrom, Robert Michael

Understanding the past sensitivity of ice sheets and sea level rise in a warmer climate is essential to future coastal planning under the threat of climate change, as accurately modeling impending scenarios depends primarily on data from the past. Extreme warm events during the Quaternary and Neogene periods hold much of the information needed to predict future global climate conditions due to anthropogenic and natural forcings, and may provide unique glimpses of how much future sea level rise can be expected on both short- and long-term timescales. Constraining global mean sea level (GMSL) during past warm periods becomes increasingly difficult the further back in time one goes, especially as precise dating of globally distributed paleoshorelines, along with long-term vertical displacement rates, is essential for establishing GMSL and ice volume history. However, placing chronological constraints on shorelines beyond the limit of U-series radiometric dating (~600 kyr), or at high latitude sites lacking coral, has remained elusive. Even relatively recent warm periods, such as the Last Interglacial (~117-129 ka) has proved challenging for reconstructing GMSL, primarily due to uncertainties in long-term vertical deformation rates and timing of when the highstand occurred. The first two chapters of this thesis address the dating of carbonate shorelines older than ~500 kyr through refinement of the strontium isotope stratigraphy dating methodology. I apply these techniques to a well-known location with numerous uplifted fossil shorelines (Cape Range, Western Australia) to provide the first geochemically derived ages on three fossil shorelines spanning the Pleistocene to the Miocene. Accurate dating and mapping at this location allows correction of long-term vertical displacement. In the last chapter, I use these rates of uplift, in conjunction with twenty new 230Th/U-ages on corals from Western Australia, to refine the timing and peak elevation of the Last Interglacial sea level highstand.

Chapter 1 re-evaluates strontium isotope stratigraphy dating techniques for chronologically constraining fossil shorelines from ~0.5 to >30 Ma. Using marine terraces from South Africa, Western Australia, and the Eastern United States as examples, this chapter presents a refined sampling and dating methodology to overcome limitations on diagenetically altered samples, which are ubiquitous in older carbonate shorelines. Discussion on best practices for constraining maximum or minimum ages includes a novel scoring methodology for alteration and a sequential leaching procedure that is specifically suited for shallow-water biogenic carbonate fauna.

In Chapter 2, I apply the revised strontium isotope stratigraphy dating methodology to three previously unknown aged terraces in Cape Range, Western Australia. The results obtained show Late-Miocene, Late-Pliocene and Mid-Pleistocene shorelines, which I then use to reconstruct the vertical uplift history of the anticlinal structure and relative rates of deformation. This study is the first to directly date the three terraces, and provides the deformation history necessary for constraining Last Interglacial sea level at Cape Range. In addition, we are able to place maximum relative sea level constraints on all three of these older shorelines.

Chapter 3 builds upon the previous chapter by focusing on the Last Interglacial sea level history along ~300 km of coastline in Western Australia (Cape Range and Quobba). This chapter presents new U-series ages on multiple coral heads that are among the highest in-situ corals ever dated in Western Australia, with ages spanning from ~125.3 – 122.6 ka. Detailed geomorphic analysis, particularly at Cape Range, constrains the relative sea level highstand to 6.9 ± 0.4 m. When glacial isostatic adjustment models are applied to the age and elevation data, the resulting Eemian GMSL highstand occurred between 125.5-123.0 ka and reached an elevation between 4.9 and 6.7 m. This is later in the Interglacial and lower in elevation than many recent studies suggest.

This dissertation focuses on refining sea level highstands from the Last Interglacial to the Late Miocene in a relatively small (but historically important) region of Western Australia. However, the methodologies presented here provide a powerful multi-proxy dating and mapping approach, which, when applied to regions with multiple marine terraces, can greatly improve the reliability of younger shoreline elevations by reducing neotectonic and dynamic topography uncertainties. The carbonate screening techniques and 87Sr/86Sr stratigraphy dating described here are applicable to a wide range of marine carbonates, with the ability to place accurate chronologic constraints on shorelines from 0.5 to >30 Ma. As I show in chapter 3, when combined with 230Th/U-dating on Late Pleistocene coral in places where multiple marine terraces exist, valuable long-term vertical deformation constraints can allow for far more accurate analysis of sea level in younger paleo shorelines (i.e. Last Interglacial).


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Raymo, Maureen E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 30, 2020