Estimates of marine isotope stage (MIS) 5c and 5a global mean sea level (GMSL) based on marine terraces and coastal indicators range from 15–37 m and 9–30 m below present, respectively. Tectonic displacement and glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) complicate efforts to refine this range. We revisit this issue using numerical predictions of post-glacial sea-level change and updated estimates of site-specific tectonic signals based upon these predictions. Laurentide and Cordilleran peripheral bulge dynamics and variations in the gravitational effect of these ice masses dominate the GIA signal along the east and west coasts of North America. Published compilations suggest that MIS 5 sea-level indicators extending from Virginia to the Caribbean lie on the outer flank of the peripheral bulge, while those along a transect from Oregon to Baja California sit on the inner flank of the bulge. Our GIA modeling reconciles these data by adopting a significantly weaker (i.e., lower viscosity) upper mantle in analyzing data on the Pacific coast relative to the Atlantic, an inference supported by seismic tomography. We present a sensitivity analysis that compares the observed elevation of globally distributed high stand markers to a suite of GIA simulations that vary the Earth model and GMSL from the Last Interglaciation (MIS 5e, ∼130-115 ka) to 70 ka. We conclude that GMSL peaked at −8.5 ± 4.6 m (1σ) during MIS 5a and −9.4 ± 5.3 m during MIS 5c. A more restrictive analysis yields slightly wider bounds corresponding to −10.5 ± 5.5 m and −11.1 ± 6.6 m, respectively.
- MIS 5
- Sea-level changes
- Numerical modeling
- Glacial isostatic adjustment
- Glaciology (paleo-ice sheets)