Influence of Bering Strait Flow and North Atlantic Circulation on Past Sea Level Changes


New research published this week in Nature Geosciences, indicates that water levels in the Bering Strait helped drive global climate patterns during ice age episodes dating back more than 100,000 years. The DOE- and National Science Foundation-funded international study, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), found that the repeated opening and closing of the narrow strait due to fluctuating sea levels affected currents that transported heat and salinity in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. As a result, summer temperatures in parts of North America and Greenland oscillated between comparatively warm and cold phases, causing ice sheets to alternate between expansion and retreat and affecting sea levels worldwide. These findings highlight the complexity of Earth’s climate system and the fact that seemingly insignificant changes can lead to dramatic tipping points for climate patterns, especially in and around the Arctic.


Hu, A., G. A. Meehl, B. L. Otto-Bliesner, C. Waelbroeck, W. Han, M.-F. Loutre, K. Lambeck, J. X. Mitrovica, and N. Rosenbloom. 2009. “Influence of Bering Strait Flow and North Atlantic Circulation on Glacial Sea Level Changes, Nature Geosciences 3, 118–121. DOI: 10.1038/NGEO729.