Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Time of emergence for regional sea-level change

Abstract

Determining the time when the climate change signal from increasing greenhouse gases exceeds and thus emerges from natural climate variability (referred to as the time of emergence, ToE) is an important climate change issue1. Previous ToE studies were mainly focused on atmospheric variables2,3,4,5,6,7. Here, based on three regional sea-level projection products available to 2100, which have increasing complexity in terms of included processes, we estimate the ToE for sea-level changes relative to the reference period 1986–2005. The dynamic sea level derived from ocean density and circulation changes alone leads to emergence over only limited regions. By adding the global-ocean thermal expansion effect, 50% of the ocean area will show emergence with rising sea level by the early-to-middle 2040s. Including additional contributions from land ice mass loss, land water storage change and glacial isostatic adjustment generally enhances the signal of regional sea-level rise (except in some regions with decreasing total sea levels), which leads to emergence over more than 50% of the ocean area by 2020. The ToE for total sea level is substantially earlier than that for surface air temperature and exhibits little dependence on the emission scenarios, which means that our society will face detectable sea-level change and its potential impacts earlier than surface air warming.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Standard deviation of annual sea level.
Figure 2: Multimodel ensemble median ToE for regional sea-level change and the 16–84% range under RCP8.5.
Figure 3: The cumulative fraction of the total area with the emergence of change signals before the given time from the multimodel ensemble median patterns.
Figure 4: Multimodel ensemble mean projections of global mean thermosteric sea level (GMTSL) and global mean surface air temperature (GMSAT) under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5.

References

  1. Kirtman, B. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F.et al.) 953–1028 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Diffenbaugh, N. S. & Scherer, M. Observational and model evidence of global emergence of permanent, unprecedented heat in the 20th and 21st centuries. Climatic Change 107, 615–624 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Mahlstein, I., Knutti, R., Solomon, S. & Portmann, R. W. Early onset of significant local warming in low latitude countries. Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 034009 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Hawkins, E. & Sutton, R. Time of emergence of climate signals. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L01702 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Mora, C. et al. The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability. Nature 502, 183–187 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Mahlstein, I., Portmann, R. W., Daniel, J. S., Solomon, S. & Knutti, R. Perceptible changes in regional precipitation in a future climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L05701 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Giorgi, F. & Bi, X. Time of emergence (TOE) of GHG-forced precipitation change hot-spots. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L06709 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Church, J. A., Monselesan, D., Gregory, J. M. & Marzeion, B. Evaluating the ability of process based models to project sea-level change. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 014051 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Gregory, J. M. et al. Twentieth-century global-mean sea level rise: Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? J. Clim. 26, 4476–4499 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Church, J. A. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F.et al.) 1137–1216 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Yin, J. Century to multi-century sea level rise projections from CMIP5 models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L17709 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Zhang, X., Church, J. A., Platten, S. M. & Monselesan, D. Projection of subtropical gyre circulation and associated sea level changes in the Pacific based on CMIP3 climate models. Clim. Dynam. 43, 131–144 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Nicholls, R. J. & Cazenave, A. Sea-level rise and its impact on coastal zones. Science 328, 1517–1520 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Cazenave, A. & Le Cozannet, G. Sea level rise and its coastal impacts. Earth’s Future 2, 15–34 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Calafat, F. M. & Chambers, D. P. Quantifying recent acceleration in sea level unrelated to internal climate variability. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 3661–3666 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Haigh, I. D. et al. Timescales for detecting a significant acceleration in sea level rise. Nature Commun. 5, 3635 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Slangen, A. B. A. et al. Projecting twenty-first century regional sea-level changes. Climatic Change 124, 317–332 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Church, J. A. et al. Revisiting the Earth’s sea-level and energy budgets from 1961 to 2008. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L18601 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Mitrovica, J. X. et al. On the robustness of predictions of sea level fingerprints. Geophys. J. Int. 187, 729–742 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Van Vuuren, D. P. et al. The representative concentration pathways: An overview. Climatic Change 109, 5–31 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hawkins, E. et al. Uncertainties in the timing of unprecedented climates. Nature 511, E3–E4 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Yin, J. & Goddard, P. B. Oceanic control of sea level rise patterns along the East Coast of the United States. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 5514–5520 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Meehl, G. A. et al. Relative outcomes of climate change mitigation related to global temperature versus sea-level rise. Nature Clim. Change 2, 576–580 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Bouttes, N., Gregory, J. M. & Lowe, J. A. The reversibility of sea level rise. J. Clim. 26, 2502–2513 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Sutton, R. T., Dong, B. & Gregory, J. M. Land/sea warming ratio in response to climate change: IPCC AR4 model results and comparison with observations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L02701 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Slangen, A. B. A., van de Wal, R. S. W., Wada, Y. & Vermeersen, L. L. A. Comparing tide gauge observations to regional patterns of sea-level change (1961–2003). Earth Syst. Dynam. 5, 243–255 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Sen Gupta, A., Jourdain, N. C., Brown, J. N. & Monselesan, D. Climate drift in the CMIP5 models. J. Clim. 26, 8597–8615 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Schotman, H. H. A. & Vermeersen, L. L. A. Sensitivity of glacial isostatic adjustment models with shallow low-viscosity earth layers to the ice-load history in relation to the performance of GOCE and GRACE. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 236, 828–844 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Kendall, R. A., Mitrovica, J. X. & Milne, G. A. On post-glacial sea level–II. Numerical formulation and comparative results on spherically symmetric models. Geophys. J. Int. 161, 679–706 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP, the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and leads development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We thank AVISO (http://www.aviso.oceanobs.com) for providing altimeter data. We also thank D. Monselesan for help with CMIP5 data handling. Detailed comments on an early draft by M. King and J. Hunter helped to improve the manuscript significantly. J.A.C. and X.Z. are supported by the Australian Climate Change Science Program (ACCSP). K.L. and J.H. are supported by the China Scholarship Council and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41276006). A.B.A.S. is funded by a CSIRO Office of the Chief Executive Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

X.Z. conceived and designed the study with K.L. K.L. carried out the analysis and produced all figures under the guidance of X.Z. and J.A.C. A.B.A.S. prepared the regional sea-level projection data for land ice and groundwater contributions. K.L. wrote the first draft with X.Z., and all authors made contributions to writing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xuebin Zhang.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lyu, K., Zhang, X., Church, J. et al. Time of emergence for regional sea-level change. Nature Clim Change 4, 1006–1010 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2397

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2397

This article is cited by

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing