Geology & Sea Levels


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Geology & Sea Levels

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Mar 15, 2013, 9:48pm

I have always wondered about the fluctuation of the sea levels of earth and their history. I would really love to learn about this, specifically over the last 500,000 years, if not further. We know for a fact that the levels have risen, but what of the land masses? It would be really interesting if there was a book that details this stuff with maps of the rising and submerging of sea levels and continents/islands over time. I would also be interested in learning how and why this sort of thing happens. Geology fascinates me, but I don't know as much about our planet as I would like. Does anyone know of any scholarly works that detail this sort of study?

Mar 15, 2013, 11:05pm

The rise and fall of global sea levels has a lot to do with whether or not the planet is in an glacial (Ice sheet growth) or interglacial period (melting of ice sheets), basically Climate Change only on a longer scale. Throughout the history of the planet Ice sheets are retreating and for much the planet's history has been completely devoid of large Ice sheets all together. Higher sea levels are the norm. There's complicated relationship between seas levels and the deposition of sediment that adds landmass to areas covered by the seas during interglacials, glacial rebound of continents (not one of the larger players in landmass change), and of course plate tectonics both in terms of mountain building and position of continents that control where and when land mass upheaval occurs.

I have never seen a comprohensive book of sea level changes throughout history, especially one covering the last 500,000 years (fairly young by geology standards). Because sea level change is such a complex topic it is usually only discussed in regional geology papers and texts. For instance there a hundreds of journal papers discussing the ocean that covered much of the North American continent during the Cretaceous (there are lots of maps/sires of this out there, even a couple of very detailed aminations). But I don't know of any geared towards the general public with such a wide scope as a general survey, much of what has been collected as surveys are collections of stuffy journal articles with lots in the ball park kind of discussions.

One idea that might be better suited for what your looking for is a book on long term cycles of Climate Change, also a book on basic plate tectonics that discusses the formation of oceans wouldn't hurt. Sorry, I can;t think of a single title off the top of my head. Afraid I can't be of much help tonight, but I'm sure someone will be along with some ideas.

Edited: Mar 20, 2013, 1:43pm


One truly geological time scales, "ice ages" (where there is a significant amount of ice on land) are fairly rare. Our perceptions are biased because we're in the middle of one right now. In the geological long term there are a lot of other things that can affect sea level; for example, rate of sea floor spreading (rapid sea floor spreading means mid-ocean ridges build up faster than continents can move, and the increased volume of mid-ocean ridges displaces water onto the continents). Rapid sedimentation can displace water, as can thermal expansion of the oceans even if there is no ice to melt.

I suggest your best bet for a book showing the big picture would be an intro level college geology text - something with "Earth History" or "Historical Geology" in the title. Can't recommend anything specific because the field has pretty much passed me by.

For just the last 500K years - from the middle Pleistocene to now - there hasn't been much change in continental position so glacial geology has been the dominant factor. Pleistocene geology (well, our interpretation of that geology, at least) as changed a lot since I studied it years ago, so I'm sure most of my old texts are out of date. Once again a introductory college text with "Quaternary" or "Pleistocene" historical geology would probably suit you.

Apr 16, 2013, 8:51pm

I think a book called Ice Agea: Solving the Mystery by John and Katherine Imbrie would be a good start to this topic. A lot goes into sea change understanding Ice Ages will go a long way to getting to grips with what you are asking.

Edited: Apr 28, 2013, 11:45pm

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Edited: Jun 4, 2013, 12:29pm

Hi, I'm new here! Just wanted to pitch in that I agree with setnahkt, Historical Geology books are your best bets for the kind of treatment you are looking for, except it's applied throughout geologic time as best we know it. There certainly were theories that the Great Extinction Event at the end of the Permian/Paleozoic was correleted with large scale glaciation. Also, your question provoked thoughts in my mind about the cyclothems of the Paleozoic. I'm pretty sure there were significant sea level changes associated with those cyclothems! Anyway, good luck in your search.