Sea level history of the northern Gulf of Mexico coast and sea level rise scenarios for the near future

Abstract

The sea level history of the northern Gulf of Mexico during recent geologic time has closely followed global eustatic sea level change. Regional effects due to tectonics and glacio-isostasy have been minimal. Over the past several million years the northern Gulf coast, like most stable coastal regions of the globe, has experienced major swings of sea level below and above present level, accompanied by major shifts in shoreline position. During advances of the northern hemisphere ice sheets, sea level dropped by more than 100 m, extending the shoreline in places more than 100 km onto the shelf. For much of the period since the last glacial maximum (LGM), 20,000 years ago, the region has seen rates of sea level rise far in excess of those experienced during the period represented by long-term tide gauges. The regional tide gauge record reveals that sea level has been rising at about 2 mm/year for the past century, while the average rate of rise since the LGM has been 6 mm/year, with some periods of abrupt rise exceeding 40 mm/year. During times of abrupt rise, Gulf of Mexico shorelines were drowned in place and overstepped. The relative stability of modern coastal systems is due primarily to stabilization of sea level approximately 6,000 years ago, resulting in the slow rates of rise experienced during historic time. Recent model projections of sea level rise over the next century and beyond may move northern Gulf coastal environments into a new equilibrium regime, more similar to that experienced during the deglaciation than that which has existed during historic time.

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Correspondence to Joseph F. Donoghue.

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Donoghue, J.F. Sea level history of the northern Gulf of Mexico coast and sea level rise scenarios for the near future. Climatic Change 107, 17 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-011-0077-x

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Keywords

  • Last Glacial Maximum
  • Tide Gauge
  • Northern Gulf Coast