The Bering Strait was flooded 10,000 years before the Last Glacial Maximum
The cyclic growth and decay of continental ice sheets can be reconstructed from the history of global sea level. Sea level is relatively well constrained for the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, 26,500 to 19,000 y ago, 26.5 to 19 ka) and the ensuing deglaciation. However, sea-level estimates for the period of ice-sheet growth before the LGM vary by > 60 m, an uncertainty comparable to the sea-level equivalent of the contemporary Antarctic Ice Sheet. Here, we constrain sea level prior to the LGM by reconstructing the flooding history of the shallow Bering Strait since 46 ka. Using a geochemical proxy of Pacific nutrient input to the Arctic Ocean, we find that the Bering Strait was flooded from the beginning of our records at 46 ka until 35.7+3.3−2.4 ka. To match this flooding history, our sea-level model requires an ice history in which over 50% of the LGM’s global peak ice volume grew after 46 ka. This finding implies that global ice volume and climate were not linearly coupled during the last ice age, with implications for the controls on each. Moreover, our results shorten the time window between the opening of the Bering Land Bridge and the arrival of humans in the Americas.