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Effects of long-term variability on projections of twenty-first century dynamic sea level


Sea-level rise1 is one of the most pressing aspects of anthropogenic global warming with far-reaching consequences for coastal societies. However, sea-level rise did2,3,4,5,6,7 and will strongly vary from coast to coast8,9,10. Here we investigate the long-term internal variability effects on centennial projections of dynamic sea level (DSL), the local departure from the globally averaged sea level. A large ensemble of global warming integrations has been conducted with a climate model, where each realization was forced by identical CO2 increase but started from different atmospheric and oceanic initial conditions. In large parts of the mid- and high latitudes, the ensemble spread of the projected centennial DSL trends is of the same order of magnitude as the globally averaged steric sea-level rise, suggesting that internal variability cannot be ignored when assessing twenty-first-century DSL trends. The ensemble spread is considerably reduced in the mid- to high latitudes when only the atmospheric initial conditions differ while keeping the oceanic initial state identical; indicating that centennial DSL projections are strongly dependent on ocean initial conditions.

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Figure 1: Comparison of the KCM’s DSL, the local deviation from the global average sea level, with satellite observations.
Figure 2: Long-term internal variability strongly influences centennial DSL projections in the KCM.
Figure 3: Detection time of the CO2 forcing on DSL.
Figure 4: Results from three CMIP5 ensembles support the finding of a strong influence of long-term internal variability on centennial DSL projections.


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We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 1) 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 led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. The altimeter products were produced by Ssalto/Duacs and distributed by AVISO with support from CNES. This work was supported by the BMBF RACE (No. 03F0651B) and EU FP7 NACLIM (grant agreement no. 308299) Projects. The KCM runs were performed at the Kiel University Computing Center.

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M.L. suggested the study, organized the analyses and wrote the first draft of the paper. M.H.B. and T.M. analysed the KCM and CMIP5 data. W.P. co-designed and conducted the KCM experiments and prepared the data for analyses. M.H.B. produced the diagrams. All authors discussed and interpreted the results and implications at all stages.

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Correspondence to Mojib Latif.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bordbar, M., Martin, T., Latif, M. et al. Effects of long-term variability on projections of twenty-first century dynamic sea level. Nature Clim Change 5, 343–347 (2015).

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