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Sea-level changes in Iceland and the influence of the North Atlantic Oscillation during the last half millennium

Saher, M.H.; Gehrels, W.R.; Barlow, N.L.M.; Long, A.J.; Haigh, I.D.; Blaauw, M.

Sea-level changes in Iceland and the influence of the North Atlantic Oscillation during the last half millennium Thumbnail


M.H. Saher

W.R. Gehrels

N.L.M. Barlow

I.D. Haigh

M. Blaauw


We present a new, diatom-based sea-level reconstruction for Iceland spanning the last ~500 years, and investigate the possible mechanisms driving the sea-level changes. A sea-level reconstruction from near the Icelandic low pressure system is important as it can improve understanding of ocean-atmosphere forcing on North Atlantic sea-level variability over multi-decadal to centennial timescales. Our reconstruction is from Viðarhólmi salt marsh in Snæfellsnes in western Iceland, a site from where we previously obtained a 2000-yr record based upon less precise sea-level indicators (salt-marsh foraminifera). The 20th century part of our record is corroborated by tide-gauge data from Reykjavik. Overall, the new reconstruction shows ca. 0.6 m rise of relative sea level during the last four centuries, of which ca. 0.2 m occurred during the 20th century. Low-amplitude and high-frequency sea-level variability is super-imposed on the pre-industrial long-term rising trend of 0.65 m per 1000 years. Most of the relative sea-level rise occurred in three distinct periods: AD 1620-1650, AD 1780-1850 and AD 1950-2000, with maximum rates of ~3 ± 2 mm/yr during the latter two of these periods. Maximum rates were achieved at the end of large shifts (from negative to positive) of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) Index as reconstructed from proxy data. Instrumental data demonstrate that a strong and sustained positive NAO (a deep Icelandic Low) generates setup on the west coast of Iceland resulting in rising sea levels. There is no strong evidence that the periods of rapid sea-level rise were caused by ocean mass changes, glacial isostatic adjustment or regional steric change. We suggest that wind forcing plays an important role in causing regional-scale coastal sea-level variability in the North Atlantic, not only on (multi-)annual timescales, but also on multi-decadal to centennial timescales.


Saher, M., Gehrels, W., Barlow, N., Long, A., Haigh, I., & Blaauw, M. (2015). Sea-level changes in Iceland and the influence of the North Atlantic Oscillation during the last half millennium. Quaternary Science Reviews, 108, 23-36.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 15, 2015
Deposit Date Nov 10, 2014
Publicly Available Date Dec 16, 2014
Journal Quaternary Science Reviews
Print ISSN 0277-3791
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 108
Pages 23-36
Keywords Diatoms, Ocean dynamics, Iceland, Little Ice Age, Sea-level rise, NAO.


Accepted Journal Article (3.9 Mb)

Copyright Statement
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Quaternary Science Reviews. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Quaternary Science Reviews, 108, 15 January 2015, 10.1016/j.quascirev.2014.11.005.

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