US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Quaternary Science Reviews 37 (2012) 1-25



U.S. government work


San Nicolas Island, California has one of the best records of fossiliferous Quaternary marine terraces in North America, with at least fourteen terraces rising to an elevation of ~270 m above present-day sea level. In our studies of the lowest terraces, we identified platforms at 38–36 m (terrace 2a), 33–28 m (terrace 2b), and 13–8 m (terrace 1). Uranium-series dating of solitary corals from these terraces yields three clusters of ages: ~120 ka on terrace 2a (marine isotope stage [MIS] 5.5), ~120 and ~100 ka on terrace 2b (MIS 5.5 and 5.3), and ~80 ka (MIS 5.1) on terrace 1.We conclude that corals on terrace 2b that date to ~120 ka were reworked from a formerly broader terrace 2a during the ~100 ka sea stand. Fossil faunas differ on the three terraces. Isolated fragments of terrace 2a have a fauna similar to that of modern waters surrounding San Nicolas Island. A mix of extralimital southern and extralimital northern species is found on terrace 2b, and extralimital northern species are on terrace 1. On terrace 2b, with its mixed faunas, extralimital southern species, indicating warmer than present waters, are interpreted to be from the ~120 ka high sea stand, reworked from terrace 2a. The extralimital northern species on terrace 2b, indicating cooler than present waters, are interpreted to be from the ~100 ka sea stand. The abundant extralimital northern species on terrace 1 indicate cooler than present waters at ~80 ka. Using the highest elevations of the ~120 ka platform of terrace 2a, and assuming a paleo-sea level of þ6 m based on previous studies, San Nicolas Island has experienced late Quaternary uplift rates of ~0.25–0.27 m/ka. These uplift rates, along with shoreline angle elevations and ages of terrace 2b (~100 ka) and terrace 1 (~80 ka) yield relative (local) paleo-sea level elevations of +2 to +6 m for the ~100 ka sea stand and –11 to –12 m for the ~80 ka sea stand. These estimates are significantly higher than those reported for the ~100 ka and ~80 ka sea stands on New Guinea and Barbados. Numerical models of the glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) process presented here demonstrate that these differences in the high stands are expected, given the variable geographic distances between the sites and the former Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets. Moreover, the numerical results show that the absolute and differential elevations of the observed high stands provide a potentially important constraint on ice volumes during this time interval and on Earth structure.