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Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America

This article has been updated


Climate warming does not force sea-level rise (SLR) at the same rate everywhere. Rather, there are spatial variations of SLR superimposed on a global average rise. These variations are forced by dynamic processes1,2,3,4, arising from circulation and variations in temperature and/or salinity, and by static equilibrium processes5, arising from mass redistributions changing gravity and the Earth’s rotation and shape. These sea-level variations form unique spatial patterns, yet there are very few observations verifying predicted patterns or fingerprints6. Here, we present evidence of recently accelerated SLR in a unique 1,000-km-long hotspot on the highly populated North American Atlantic coast north of Cape Hatteras and show that it is consistent with a modelled fingerprint of dynamic SLR. Between 1950–1979 and 1980–2009, SLR rate increases in this northeast hotspot were 3–4 times higher than the global average. Modelled dynamic plus steric SLR by 2100 at New York City ranges with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenario from 36 to 51 cm (ref. 3); lower emission scenarios project 24–36 cm (ref. 7). Extrapolations from data herein range from 20 to 29 cm. SLR superimposed on storm surge, wave run-up and set-up will increase the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding, and beaches and wetlands to deterioration.

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Figure 1: Spatial variations of SLRD on the North American east coast.
Figure 2: SLRDs for 60-yr time series at gauge locations across North America.
Figure 3: Dependency of SLRDs on time series lengths for averages of NEH gauges.
Figure 4: Comparisons between SLRDs and climate indices.

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Change history

  • 26 April 2013

    The authors have updated the Supplementary Information to include the numerical results of the rate difference calculations for total window lengths of 60 years (Table S4), 50 years (Table S5) and 40 years (Table S6). These data are in spreadsheet form and provide the numerical values represented in Figs 1 and 2 in the main text and Fig. S3. These changes have been made in this file 26 April 2013.


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The USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program provided the financial support for this work. We thank the following for providing comments on our manuscript before submission: R. A. Holman, J. Boon, C. Fletcher, N. Plant, E. R. Thieler, L. Robbins and J. List. We also thank G. Mitchum, P. Thompson and J. Haines for useful discussions about dynamic SLR and results presented in this paper. K. Morgan assisted with preparation of the final figures.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.H.S. conceived the study, developed hypotheses and tests, supervised the work and wrote the main text. K.S.D. conducted the calculations, and posed and carried out sensitivity and statistical tests. P.A.H. designed statistical tests, developed/tested methods and wrote the Methods and Supplementary Information.

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Correspondence to Asbury H. Sallenger Jr.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information (PDF 2627 kb)

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table S4 (XLS 50 kb)

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table S5 (XLS 51 kb)

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table S6 (XLS 53 kb)

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Sallenger, A., Doran, K. & Howd, P. Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America. Nature Clim Change 2, 884–888 (2012).

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