• sea-level change;
  • glacial isostatic adjustment;
  • model development;
  • eustasy;
  • ice sheet reconstructions


While contributing <1 m equivalent eustatic sea-level rise the British Isles ice sheet produced glacio-isostatic rebound in northern Britain of similar magnitude to eustatic sea-level change, or global meltwater influx, over the last 18 000 years. The resulting spatially variable relative sea-level changes combine with observations from far-field locations to produce a rigorous test for quantitative models of glacial isostatic adjustment, local ice-sheet history and global meltwater influx. After a review of the attributes of relative sea-level observations significant for constraining large-scale models of the isostatic adjustment process we summarise long records of relative sea-level change from the British Isles and far-field locations. We give an overview of different global theoretical models of the isostatic adjustment process before presenting intercomparisons of observed and predicted relative sea levels at sites in the British Isles and far-field for a range of Earth and ice model parameters in order to demonstrate model sensitivity and the resolving power available from using evidence from the British Isles. For the first time we show a good degree of fit between relative sea-level observations and predictions that are based upon global Earth and ice model parameters, independently derived from analysis of far-field data, with a terrain-corrected model of the British Isles ice sheet that includes extensive glaciation of the North Sea and western continental shelf, that does not assume isostatic equilibrium at the Last Glacial Maximum and keeps to trimline constraints of ice surface elevation. We do not attempt to identify a unique solution for the model lithosphere thickness parameter or the local-scale detail of the ice model in order to provide a fit for all sites, but argue that the next stage should be to incorporate an ice-sheet model that is based on quantitative, glaciological model simulations. We hope that this paper will stimulate this debate and help to integrate research in glacial geomorphology, glaciology, sea-level change, Earth rheology and quantitative modelling. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.