Letter | Published:

The rate of sea-level rise

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 358361 (2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

Present-day sea-level rise is a major indicator of climate change1. Since the early 1990s, sea level rose at a mean rate of 3.1 mm yr−1 (refs 2, 3). However, over the last decade a slowdown of this rate, of about 30%, has been recorded4,5,6,7,8. It coincides with a plateau in Earth’s mean surface temperature evolution, known as the recent pause in warming1,9,10,11,12. Here we present an analysis based on sea-level data from the altimetry record of the past 20 years that separates interannual natural variability in sea level from the longer-term change probably related to anthropogenic global warming. The most prominent signature in the global mean sea level interannual variability is caused by El Niño–Southern Oscillation, through its impact on the global water cycle13,14,15,16. We find that when correcting for interannual variability, the past decade’s slowdown of the global mean sea level disappears, leading to a similar rate of sea-level rise (of 3.3 ± 0.4 mm yr−1) during the first and second decade of the altimetry era. Our results confirm the need for quantifying and further removing from the climate records the short-term natural climate variability if one wants to extract the global warming signal10.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by CNES, CNRS, MétéoFrance, The University of Toulon and the ESA CCI project.

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Affiliations

  1. Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales, 18 avenue E. Belin 31400 Toulouse, France

    • Anny Cazenave
    • , Habib-Boubacar Dieng
    • , Benoit Meyssignac
    •  & Etienne Berthier
  2. Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography, avenue de l’Université, 83957 La Grade, France

    • Karina von Schuckmann
  3. Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques, MétéoFrance, 42 avenue G. Coriolis 31100 Toulouse, France

    • Bertrand Decharme

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Contributions

A.C. conceived the study and wrote the article. H-B.D. conducted the calculations. B.D. and K.v.S. provided the ISBA/TRIP and Argo data, respectively. B.M. and E.B. contributed to the interpretation and discussion.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anny Cazenave.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2159