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Salt marshes as late Holocene tide gauges

Barlow, N.L.M.; Shennan, I.; Long, A.J.; Gehrels, W.R.; Saher, M.H; Woodroffe, S.A.; Hillier, C.

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N.L.M. Barlow

W.R. Gehrels

M.H Saher

C. Hillier


Understanding late Holocene to present relative sea-level changes at centennial or sub-centennial scales requires geological records that dovetail with the instrumental era. Salt marsh sediments are one of the most reliable geological tide gauges. In this paper we review the methodological and technical advances that promoted research on ‘high resolution’ late Holocene sea-level change. We work through an example to demonstrate different pathways to quantitative reconstructions of relative sea level based on salt marsh sediments. We demonstrate that any reconstruction is in part a result of the environment from which the record is taken, the modern dataset used to calibrate the fossil changes, statistical assumptions behind calibrating microfossil assemblages and choices made by the researchers. With the error term of typical transfer function models ~10-15% of the tidal range, micro-tidal environments should produce the most precise sea-level reconstructions. Sampled elevation range of the modern dataset also has a strong influence on model predictive ability. Model-specific errors may under represent total uncertainty which comes from field practices, sedimentary environment, palaeo-tidal changes and sediment compaction as well as statistical uncertainties. Geological tide gauges require a detailed chronology but we must be certain that apparent relative sea-level fluctuations are not simply a consequence of an age-depth model. We make six suggestions to aid the development and interpretation of geological tide gauge records.


Barlow, N., Shennan, I., Long, A., Gehrels, W., Saher, M., Woodroffe, S., & Hillier, C. (2013). Salt marshes as late Holocene tide gauges. Global and Planetary Change, 106, 90-110.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jul 1, 2013
Deposit Date Mar 12, 2013
Publicly Available Date Apr 23, 2013
Journal Global and Planetary Change
Print ISSN 0921-8181
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 106
Pages 90-110
Keywords Relative sea-level change, salt marsh, transfer function, diatoms, foraminifera, reconstruction, trends, holocene, errors


Accepted Journal Article (3.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Global and planetary change. 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 Global and planetary change, 106, 2013, 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2013.03.003

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