Sea level variations, global sedimentation rates and the hypsographic curve

C. G.A. Harrison, G. W. Brass, E. Saltzman, J. Sloan, J. Southam, J. M. Whitman

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Sea level changes during the Neozoic have been estimated by two different methods. The first involves measuring the amount of present-day land area which was flooded during the past, and using the present-day hypsographic curve to estimate the amount of sea level rise necessary to produce this flooding. The second involves the estimation of the changing volume of mid-oceanic ridges through time, and estimating sea level changes after having allowed for isostatic adjustment. A difference in sea level of 170 m is obtained from the two methods for the Cretaceous (80-100 m.y. B.P.). This is equivalent to a difference in continental flooding of 24 Mm2, using the present-day hypsographic curve. We attempt to explain this difference firstly by allowing for the fact that the present-day ocean basins have more sediment in them than did the Cretaceous ocean basins. This produces a sea level change in the opposite direction to that produced by the reduction in mid-ocean ridge volume since the Cretaceous. Secondly, we suggest another large factor in producing the difference is that the present-day hypsographic curve is not the correct one to use when studying sea level stands in the Cretaceous. Present-day average continental heights are closely related to continental areas. Accepting this principle, if continents are joined together in the past, their average height must be greater, and so their hypsographic curve must be steeper. A given sea level rise would produce less continental flooding during times of continental aggregation than it would today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1981

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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