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An examination of spatial variability in the timing and magnitude of Holocene relative sea-level changes in the New Zealand archipelago

Clement, A.J.H.; Whitehouse, P.L.; Sloss, C.R.

An examination of spatial variability in the timing and magnitude of Holocene relative sea-level changes in the New Zealand archipelago Thumbnail


A.J.H. Clement

C.R. Sloss


Holocene relative sea-level (RSL) changes have been reconstructed for four regions within the New Zealand archipelago: the northern North Island (including Northland, Auckland, and the Coromandel Peninsula); the southwest coast of the North Island; the Canterbury coast (South Island); and the Otago coast (South Island). In the North Island the RSL highstand commenced c. 8100–7240 cal yr BP when present mean sea-level (PMSL) was first attained. This is c. 600–1400 years earlier than has been previously indicated for the New Zealand region as a whole, and is consistent with recent Holocene RSL reconstructions from Australia. In North Island locations the early-Holocene sea-level highstand was quite pronounced, with RSL up to 2.75 m higher than present. In the South Island the onset of highstand conditions was later, with the first attainment of PMSL being between 7000–6400 cal yr BP. In the mid-Holocene the northern North Island experienced the largest sea-level highstand, with RSL up to 3.00 m higher than present. This is demonstrably higher than the highstand recorded for the southwest North Island and Otago regions. A number of different drivers operating at a range of scales may be responsible for the spatial and temporal variation in the timing and magnitude of RSL changes within the New Zealand archipelago. One possible mechanism is the north-south gradient in RSL that would arise in the intermediate field around Antarctica in response to the reduced gravitational attraction of the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) as it lost mass during the Holocene. This gradient would be enhanced by the predicted deformation of the lithosphere in the intermediate field of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica due to hydro-isostatic loading and mass loss of the AIS. However, no such long-wavelength signals in sea-surface height or solid Earth deformation are evident in glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) model predictions for the New Zealand region, while research from Australia has suggested that north-south variations in Holocene RSL changes due to hydro-isostatic influences are limited or non-existent. At the regional-to local-scale, post-glacial meltwater loading on the continental shelf around New Zealand is predicted by GIA modelling to have a significant effect on the timing and magnitude of RSL changes through the phenomenon of continental levering. The spatial variation in continental levering is controlled by the configuration of the coast and the width of the adjacent continental shelf, with continental levering providing a robust explanation for the observed spatial and temporal variations in RSL changes. Further research is required to characterise the regional and local effects of different tectonic regimes, wave climates, and sediment regimes. These are potentially very significant drivers of RSL variability at the regional-to local-scale. However, the magnitude of their potential effects remains equivocal.


Clement, A., Whitehouse, P., & Sloss, C. (2016). An examination of spatial variability in the timing and magnitude of Holocene relative sea-level changes in the New Zealand archipelago. Quaternary Science Reviews, 131(Part A), 73-101.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 30, 2015
Online Publication Date Nov 6, 2015
Publication Date Jan 1, 2016
Deposit Date Sep 30, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 6, 2016
Journal Quaternary Science Reviews
Print ISSN 0277-3791
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 131
Issue Part A
Pages 73-101
Keywords Relative sea-level change, New Zealand, Holocene, Coastal geomorphology, Continental levering, Hydro-isostatic loading, Glacial isostatic adjustment.


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