A past ice age saw a massive ice sheet collapse and a sharp rise in sea levels

RV Tangaroa moving through the ice. Image: Glen Walker/NIWA/Australian Antarctic Division

An international team of scientists has found a dramatic ice sheet collapse at the end of an ice age caused widespread climate changes and led to a peak in the sea level well above its present height.

The events 135,000 years ago caused the planet to change in a different way to the end of the most recent ice age about 20,000 to 10,000 years ago.

The findings will help scientists understand the processes which control Earth’s climate changes, says Gianluca Marino of the Australian National University.

A dramatic collapse of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets into the North Atlantic Ocean suppressed the ocean circulation and caused cooling in the North Atlantic.

North Atlantic cooling was counterbalanced by Southern Ocean warming that then destabilised Antarctic land ice, causing a continuation of melting that eventually drove sea level rise to several metres above the present.

This is very different from the end of the last ice age, says Dr Marino.

“The northern hemisphere ice-sheet collapse and climate change did not occur at the same time, and that caused much less warming in Antarctica,” he says.

The team used precisely-dated cave records and marine sediments from the Mediterranean region to reconstruct the sequence of changes in all critical climate parameters.

The team, which includes researchers from ANU as well as the Universities of Southampton and Swansea in the UK, published its findings in the journal Nature.

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