Sea Level Research
I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Tufts University with a broad interest in Quaternary environmental change and Holocene coastal evolution. My research aims to produce reconstructions of relative sea level from coastal sediment on a variety of spatial and temporal scales. These reconstructions are applied across a range of research areas to
- elucidate the relationship between sea level and known climate deviations such as the Medieval Climate Anomaly and Little Ice Age
- document the size and frequency of past earthquakes, tsunamis, and storms
- understand the response of Earth to waxing and waning of ice sheets
- and describe the ecological response of wetlands to sea-level rise
This paleo perspective helps to inform coastal management in light of changes predicted for the 21st century and beyond.
- Briggs, R.W., Engelhart, S.E., Nelson, A.R., Dura, T., Kemp, A.C., Haeussler, P.J., Corbett, D.R., Angster, S.J., and Bradley, L.A., 2014. Uplift and subsidence reveal a non-persistent megathrust rupture boundary (Sitkinak Island, Alaska). Geophysical Research Letters 41, 2014GL059380.
- Nikitina, D., Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Vane, C.H., van de Plassche, O., and Engelhart, S.E., 2014. Storm erosion during the past 2000 years along the north shore of Delaware Bay, USA. Geomorphology 208, Pg. 160-172.
- Horton, B.P., Rahmstorf, S., Engelhart, S.E., and Kemp, A.C., 2014. Expert assessment of sea-level rise by AD 2100 and 2300. Quaternary Science Reviews 84, Pg 1-6. Popular media coverage including The Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), Huffington Post, Real Climate, Science Daily, Climate Central. Downloaded 1685 times from Nov 2013 to January 2014, making it the most accessed article in QSR for that period.
- Miller, K.G., Kopp, R.E., Horton, B.P., Browning, J.V., and Kemp, A.C., 2013. A geological perspective on sea-level rise and its impacts along the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast. Earth’s Future 1. DOI: 10.1002/2013EF000135. Popular media coverage including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Enquirer, National Public Radio (Radio Times).
- Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Vane, C.H., Bernhardt, C.E., Corbett, D.R., Engelhart, S.E., Anisfeld, S.C., Parnell, A.C., and Cahill, N., 2013. Sea-level change during the last 2500 years in New Jersey, USA. Quaternary Science Reviews 81, Pg 90-104.
- Kemp, A.C., Telford, R.J., Horton, B.P., Anisfeld, S.C., and Sommerfield, C.K., 2013. Reconstructing Holocene sea level using salt-marsh foraminifera and transfer functions: lessons from New Jersey, USA. Journal of Quaternary Science 28, Pg 617-629.
- Kemp, A.C. and Horton, B.P., 2013. Contribution of relative sea-level rise to historic hurricane flooding in New York City. Journal of Quaternary Science 28, Pg 537-541. Popular media coverage including The Weather Channel, Climate Central, Science Daily, and New York City public radio (WNYC).
- Horton, B.P., Engelhart, S.E., Hill, D.F., Kemp, A.C., Nikitina, D., Miller, K. G. and Peltier, W.R., 2013. Influence of tidal-range change and sediment compaction on Holocene relative sea-level change in New Jersey, USA. Journal of Quaternary Science 28, Pg 403-411.
- Kemp, A.C., Engelhart, S.E., Culver, S.J., Nelson, A.R., Briggs, R.W., and Haeussler, P.J., 2013. Modern salt-marsh and tidal-flat foraminifera from Sitkinak and Simeonof Islands, southwestern Alaska. Journal of Foraminiferal Research 43, Pg 83-94.
- Kemp, A.C., Sommerfield, C. K., Vane, C.H., Horton, B.P., Chenery, S., Anisfeld, S.C. and Nikitina, D., 2012. Use of lead isotopes for developing chronologies in recent salt-marsh sediments. Quaternary Geochronology 12, Pg 40-49.
- Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Vann, D.R., Engelhart, S.E., Grand Pre, C. A., Vane, C.H., Nikitina, D. and Anisfeld, S.C. 2012. Quantitative vertical zonation of salt-marsh foraminifera for reconstructing former sea level; an example from New Jersey, USA. Quaternary Science Reviews 54, Pg 26-39.
- Kemp, A.C., Vane, C.H., Horton, B.P., Engelhart, S.E. and Nikitina, D., 2012. Application of stable carbon isotopes for reconstructing salt-marsh floral zones and relative sea level, New Jersey, USA. Journal of Quaternary Science 27, Pg 404-414.
- Engelhart, S.E., Horton, B.P. and Kemp, A.C., 2011. Holocene sea-level changes along the United States’ Atlantic Coast. Oceanography 24, Pg 70-79.
- Gehrels, W.R., Horton, B.P., Kemp, A.C., Toker, E. and Sivan, D., 2011. Sea-level records of the last 2000 years hold the key to understanding contemporary and future sea-level changes. EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 92, Pg 289-291.
- Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Donnelly, J.D., Mann, M.E., Vermeer, M. and Rahmstorf, S., 2011. Climate related sea-level variations over the past two millennia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, Pg 11017-11022. Popular media coverage including Science News, National Geographic (Sept 2013), Time Magazine, USA Today, Boston Globe, Washington Post, MSNBC, Science Daily, Popular Science Magazine, The Daily Telegraph (UK), The Mirror (UK), Der Spiegel (Germany) and widely syndicated as an Associated Press article. Included in World Bank Report “Turn down the heat” (2012). Data presented in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR5 (Chapter 13).
- Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Donnelly, J.D., Mann, M.E., Vermeer, M. and Rahmstorf, S., 2011. Reply to Grinsted et al.; estimating land subsidence in North Carolina. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, Pg E783.
- Kemp, A.C., Buzas, M.A., Horton, B.P. and Culver, S.J., 2011. Influence of patchiness on modern salt-marsh foraminifera used in sea-level studies (North Carolina, USA). Journal of Foraminiferal Research 41, Pg 114-123.
- Kemp, A.C., Vane, C., Horton, B.P. and Culver, S.J., 2010. Stable carbon isotopes as potential sea level indicators in salt marshes, North Carolina, USA. The Holocene 20, Pg 623-636.
- Zong, Y., Kemp, A.C., Yu, F., Lloyd, J.M., Huang, G. and Yim, W.W.S., 2010. Diatoms from the Pearl River estuary, China and their suitability as water salinity indicators for coastal environments. Marine Micropaleontology 75, Pg 38-49.
- Horton, B.P., Peltier, W.R., Culver, S.J., Drummond, R., Engelhart, S.E., Kemp, A.C., Mallinson, D., Thieler, E.R., Riggs, S.R. and Ames, D.V., 2009. Holocene sea-level changes along the North Carolina Coastline: Implications for glacial isostatic adjustment models and current rates of sea evel change. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, Pg 1725-1736.
- Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Culver, S.J., Corbett, D.R., van de Plassche, O., Gehrels, W.R. Douglas, B.D. and Parnell, A., 2009. The timing and magnitude of recent accelerated sea-level rise (North Carolina, USA). Geology 37, Pg 1035-1038.
- Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P. and Culver, S.J., 2009. Distribution of modern salt-marsh foraminifera in the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system of North Carolina: implications for sea-level research. Marine Micropaleontology 72, Pg 222-238.
- Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Corbett, R., Culver, S.J., Edwards, R. J. and van de Plassche, O., 2009. The relative utility of foraminifera and diatoms for reconstructing late Holocene relative sea-level change in North Carolina, USA. Quaternary Research 71, Pg 9-21.
- Horton, B.P., Whittaker, J.E., Thompson, K.H., Hardbattle, M.I.J., Kemp, A.C., Woodroffe, S.A. and Wright, M.R., 2004. The development of a modern foraminiferal data set for sea-level reconstructions. Wakatobi Marine National Park, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. Journal of Foraminiferal Research 35, Pg 1-14.
- Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Engelhart, S.E., 2013. Late Quaternary relative sea-level changes at mid latitudes. In Elias, S.A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, 4, Pg 489-494, Elsevier, Amsterdam. Full length, illustrated chapter.
- Kemp, A.C., Nelson, A.R. and Horton, B.P., 2013. Radiocarbon dating of plant macrofossils from salt marsh sediments. In Schroder, J.F. (ed.) Treatise on Geomorphology, 14, Pg 370-388. Academic Press, San Diego. Full length, illustrated chapter.
- Horton, B.P., Engelhart, S.E., Kemp, A.C. and Sawai, Y., 2013 Microfossils in tidal settings as indicators of sea-level change, paleoearthquakes, tsunamis and tropical cyclones. In Schroder, J.F. (ed.) Treatise on Geomorphology, 14, Pg 292-314. Academic Press, San Diego. Full length, illustrated chapter.
- Kemp, A.C. and Telford, R.J. Transfer functions. In Press. In Shennan, I., Long, A.J. and Horton B.P. (eds.) Handbook for sea-level research. Full length, illustrated chapter.
My research produces reconstructions of relative sea-level (RSL) change at a range of temporal and spatial scales to determine the driving mechanisms behind past, present, and future changes. Active research themes include:
- High-resolution (century and decimeter scale) RSL reconstructions for the past ~2000 years.
Understanding of sea-level variability during this period is limited and the response to known palaeoclimate deviations such as the Medieval Climate Anomaly, Little Ice Age and 20th century warming is unknown. These records are a benchmark against which to compare recent trends and help to calibrate predictive models by connecting global sea level change to global mean surface temperature.
- Fingerprinting meltwater sources.
Geophysical models predict that melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet would generate a gradient of sea level rise along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, with larger changes in the south compared to the north. I am developing new high resolution RSL reconstructions along the U.S. Atlantic coast and in Bermuda to test if the predicted sea level fingerprint can be identified.
- Constraining models of glacio-isostatic adjustment.
Holocene RSL reconstructions are a unique and reliable means to infer GIA beyond the instrumental period. Ongoing research I in Russia and Florida is developing new field-based RSL to constrain and test GIA models.
- Palaeoseismicity in Alaska.
Land-level changes caused by megathrust earthquakes are manifest in coastal sediment sequences as gradual changes in sea level interspersed with dramatic, instantaneous changes. I use techniques developed for RSL reconstruction on passive margins to reconstruct the timing and magnitude of past Alaskan earthquakes in a region with little or no record of palaeoseismicity, but the potential to be a source of tsunamis effecting population centers on the U.S. Pacific coast.
- Urban sea-level change.
Sea-level rise poses a hazard to the intense concentrations of population and infrastructure that are increasingly located at the coast. However, almost all existing sea-level reconstructions come from rural locations. I am reconstructing sea-level changes in New York City and Boston to develop a paleoenvironmental history for these cities and local projections for future rise.
- Wetlands and sea-level rise.
Healthy salt-marshes make our coastline ecologically and economically resilient to the hazards posed by storms and extreme water-level events that occur on top of rising sea level. The sediment buried beneath salt marshes preserves a record not only of sea-level change but also of how coastal wetlands responded. This offers an insight into how our salt marshes might respond to the rates and amount of sea-level rise expected in coming decades and centuries.
Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences
2 North Hill Road