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Reconstructing Common Era relative sea-level change on the Gulf Coast of Florida

August 10, 2017

To address a paucity of Common Era data in the Gulf of Mexico, we reconstructed ~ 1.1 m of relative sea-level (RSL) rise over the past ~ 2000 years at Little Manatee River (Gulf Coast of Florida, USA). We applied a regional-scale foraminiferal transfer function to fossil assemblages preserved in a core of salt-marsh peat and organic silt that was dated using radiocarbon and recognition of pollution, 137Cs and pollen chronohorizons. Our proxy reconstruction was combined with tide-gauge data from four nearby sites spanning 1913–2014 CE. Application of an Errors-in-Variables Integrated Gaussian Process (EIV-IGP) model to the combined proxy and instrumental dataset demonstrates that RSL fell from ~ 350 to 100 BCE, before rising continuously to present. This initial RSL fall was likely the result of local-scale processes (e.g., silting up of a tidal flat or shallow sub-tidal shoal) as salt-marsh development at the site began. Since ~ 0 CE, we consider the reconstruction to be representative of regional-scale RSL trends. We removed a linear rate of 0.3 mm/yr from the RSL record using the EIV-IGP model to estimate climate-driven sea-level trends and to facilitate comparison among sites. This analysis demonstrates that since ~ 0 CE sea level did not deviate significantly from zero until accelerating continuously from ~ 1500 CE to present. Sea level was rising at 1.33 mm/yr in 1900 CE and accelerated until 2014 CE when a rate of 2.02 mm/yr was attained, which is the fastest, century-scale trend in the ~ 2000-year record. Comparison to existing reconstructions from the Gulf coast of Louisiana and the Atlantic coast of northern Florida reveal similar sea-level histories at all three sites. We explored the influence of compaction and fluvial processes on our reconstruction and concluded that compaction was likely insignificant. Fluvial processes were also likely insignificant, but further proxy evidence is needed to fully test this hypothesis. Our results indicate that no significant Common Era sea-level changes took place on the Gulf and southeastern Atlantic U.S. coasts until the onset of modern sea-level rise in the late 19th century.

Publication Year 2017
Title Reconstructing Common Era relative sea-level change on the Gulf Coast of Florida
DOI 10.1016/j.margeo.2017.07.001
Authors Matthew J. Gerlach, Simon E. Engelhart, Andrew C. Kemp, Ryan P. Moyer, Joseph M. Smoak, Christopher E. Bernhardt, Niamh Cahill
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Geology
Index ID 70193070
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center