Letter

Probabilistic reanalysis of twentieth-century sea-level rise

  • Nature volume 517, pages 481484 (22 January 2015)
  • doi:10.1038/nature14093
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Abstract

Estimating and accounting for twentieth-century global mean sea-level (GMSL) rise is critical to characterizing current and future human-induced sea-level change. Several previous analyses of tide gauge records1,2,3,4,5,6—employing different methods to accommodate the spatial sparsity and temporal incompleteness of the data and to constrain the geometry of long-term sea-level change—have concluded that GMSL rose over the twentieth century at a mean rate of 1.6 to 1.9 millimetres per year. Efforts to account for this rate by summing estimates of individual contributions from glacier and ice-sheet mass loss, ocean thermal expansion, and changes in land water storage fall significantly short in the period before 19907. The failure to close the budget of GMSL during this period has led to suggestions that several contributions may have been systematically underestimated8. However, the extent to which the limitations of tide gauge analyses have affected estimates of the GMSL rate of change is unclear. Here we revisit estimates of twentieth-century GMSL rise using probabilistic techniques9,10 and find a rate of GMSL rise from 1901 to 1990 of 1.2 ± 0.2 millimetres per year (90% confidence interval). Based on individual contributions tabulated in the Fifth Assessment Report7 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this estimate closes the twentieth-century sea-level budget. Our analysis, which combines tide gauge records with physics-based and model-derived geometries of the various contributing signals, also indicates that GMSL rose at a rate of 3.0 ± 0.7 millimetres per year between 1993 and 2010, consistent with prior estimates from tide gauge records4. The increase in rate relative to the 1901–90 trend is accordingly larger than previously thought; this revision may affect some projections11 of future sea-level rise.

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Acknowledgements

Tide gauge data were provided by PMSL (www.psmsl.org). This work was supported by US National Science Foundation grants ARC-1203414 and ARC-1203415, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NJSGC project 6410-0012), Rutgers University (R.E.K., C.C.H.), and Harvard University (J.X.M., C.C.H. and E.M.). We thank P. Woodworth for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Carling C. Hay
    • , Eric Morrow
    •  & Jerry X. Mitrovica
  2. Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854, USA

    • Carling C. Hay
    • , Eric Morrow
    •  & Robert E. Kopp
  3. Rutgers Energy Institute, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA

    • Robert E. Kopp

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Contributions

C.C.H. and E.M. developed the methodology and performed the analysis. R.E.K. and J.X.M. helped in the study design. All authors contributed to the discussion and writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carling C. Hay.

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