Scales of sea-level change

Relative sea-level curve for the PhanerozoicClick to read about sea level on Wikipedia. Image prepared by Robert Rohde and licensed for public use under CC-BY-SA.Sea level changes. It changes all the time, and always has (right). It's well known, and obvious, that levels of glaciation, especially at the polar ice-caps, are important controls on the rate and magnitude of changes in global sea level. Less intuitively, lots of other effects can play a part: changes in mid-ocean ridge spreading rates, the changing shape of the geoid, and local tectonics.

A recent paper in Science by Petersen et al (2010) showed evidence for mantle plumes driving the cyclicity of sedimentary sequences. This would be a fairly local effect, on the order of tens to hundreds of kilometres. This is important because some geologists believe in the global correlatability of these sequences. A fanciful belief in my view—but that's another story.

The paper reminded me of an attempt I once made to catalog the controls on sea level, from long-term global effects like greenhouse–icehouse periods, to short-term local effects like fault movement. I made the table below. I think most of the data, perhaps all of it, were from Emery and Aubrey (1991). It's hard to admit, because I don't feel that old, but this is a rather dated publication now; I think it's solid enough for the sort of high-level overview I am interested in. 

After last week's doodling, the table inspired me to try another scale-space cartoon. I put amplitude on the y-axis, rate on the x-axis. Effects with global reach are in bold, those that are dominantly local are not. The rather lurid colours represent different domains: magmatic, climatic, isostatic, and (in green) 'other'. The categories and the data correspond to the table.
Infographic: scales of sea level changeIt is interesting how many processes are competing for that top right-hand corner: rapid, high-amplitude sea level change. Clearly, those are the processes we care about most as sequence stratigraphers, but also as a society struggling with the consequences of our energy addiction.

Emery, K & D Aubrey (1991). Sea-levels, land levels and tide gauges. Springer-Verlag, New York, 237p.
Petersen, K, S Nielsen, O Clausen, R Stephenson & T Gerya (2010). Small-scale mantle convection produces stratigraphic sequences in sedimentary basins. Science 329 (5993) p 827–830, August 2010. DOI: 10.1126/science.1190115