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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $17.75 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Church, J. A. & White, N. J. Sea-level rise from the late 19th to the early 21st century. Surv. Geophys. 32, 585–602 (2011).
Zhang, X. & Church, J. A. Sea level trends, interannual and decadal variability in the Pacific Ocean. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L21701 (2012).
Merrifield, M. A. A shift in western tropical Pacific sea level trends during the 1990s. J. Clim. 24, 4126–4138 (2011).
Meyssignac, B. & Cazenave, A. Sea level: A review of present-day and recent-past changes and variability. J. Geodyn. 58, 96–109 (2012).
Qiu, B. & Chen, S. Multidecadal sea level and gyre circulation variability in the northwestern tropical Pacific Ocean. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 42, 193–206 (2012).
Church, J. A. et al. Estimates of the regional distribution of sea level rise over the 1950–2000 period. J. Clim. 17, 2609–2625 (2004).
Stammer, D. et al. Causes for contemporary regional sea level changes. Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci. 5, 21–46 (2013).
Church, J. A. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) Ch. 13, 1137–1216 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
Yin, J., Griffies, S. M. & Stouffer, R. J. Spatial variability of sea level rise in twenty-first century projections. J. Clim. 23, 4585–4607 (2010).
Yin, J. Century to multi-century sea level rise projections from CMIP5 models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L17709 (2012).
Griffies, S. M. & Greatbatch, R. J. Physical processes that impact the evolution of global mean sea level in ocean climate models. Ocean Modeling 51, 37–72 (2012).
Gregory, J. et al. Twentieth-century global-mean sea-level rise: Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? J. Clim. 26, 4476–4499 (2012).
Cazenave, A. & Remy, F. Sea level and climate: Measurements and causes of changes. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Change 2, 647–662 (2011).
Richter, K., Riva, R. E. M. & Drange, H. Impact of self-attraction and loading effects induced by shelf mass loading on projected regional sea level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 1144–1148 (2013).
Philander, S. G. El Niño, La Niña, and the Southern Oscillation (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990).
Hamlington, B. D. et al. Uncovering an anthropogenic sea-level rise signal in the Pacific Ocean. Nature Clim. Change 4, 782–785 (2014).
Bromirski, P. D. et al. Dynamical suppression of sea level rise along the Pacific coast of North America: Indications for imminent acceleration. J. Geophys. Res. 116, C07005 (2011).
Schwarzkopf, F. U. & Böning, C. W. Contribution of Pacific wind stress to multi-decadal variations in upper-ocean heat content and sea level in the tropical south Indian Ocean. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L12602 (2011).
Landerer, F. W., Jungclaus, J. H. & Marotzke, J. Regional dynamic and steric sea level change in response to the IPCC-A1B scenario. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 37, 296–312 (2007).
Lorbacher, K. et al. Regional patterns of sea level change related to interannual variability and multidecadal trends in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. J. Clim. 23, 4243–4254 (2010).
Vellinga, M. & Wu, P. Low latitude freshwater influence on centennial variability of the Atlantic Thermohaline circulation. J. Clim. 17, 4498–4511 (2004).
Delworth, T. L. & Zeng, F. Multicentennial variability of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and its climatic influence in a 4000 year simulation of the GFDL CM2.1 climate model. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L13702 (2012).
Karnauskas, K. et al. A Pacific centennial oscillation predicted by coupled GCMs. J. Clim. 25, 5943–5961 (2012).
Latif, M., Martin, T. & Park, W. Southern ocean sector centennial climate variability and recent decadal trends. J. Clim. 26, 7767–7782 (2013).
Martin, T., Park, W. & Latif, M. Southern Ocean forcing of the North Atlantic at multi-centennial time scales in the Kiel Climate Model. Deep Sea Res. IIhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2014.01.018 (in the press).
Park, W. et al. Tropical Pacific climate and its response to global warming in the Kiel climate model. J. Clim. 22, 71–92 (2009).
Meng, Q. et al. Twentieth century Walker Circulation change: Data analysis and model experiments. Clim. Dynam. 38, 1757–1773 (2012).
Solomon, A. & Newman, M. Reconciling disparate 20th century Indo-Pacific ocean temperature trends in the instrumental record. Nature Clim. Change 2, 691–699 (2012).
Boer, G. J. & Lambert, S. J. Multi-model decadal potential predictability of precipitation and temperature. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L05706 (2008).
Lyu, K. et al. Time of emergence for regional sea-level change. Nature Clim. Change 4, 1006–1010 (2014).
Hu, A. & Deser, C. Uncertainty in future regional sea level rise due to internal climate variability. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 2768–2772 (2013).
Böning, C. W. et al. The response of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to recent climate change. Nature Geosci. 1, 864–869 (2008).
Purkey, S. G. & Johnson, G. C. Warming of global abyssal and deep southern ocean waters between the 1990s and 2000s: Contributions to global heat and sea level rise budgets. J. Clim. 23, 6336–6351 (2010).
IPCC, in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
Roullet, G. & Madec, G. Salt conservation, free surface, and varying levels: A new formulation for ocean general circulation models. J. Geophys. Res. 105, 23927–23942 (2000).
Park, W. & Latif, M. Pacific and Atlantic multidecadal variability in the Kiel Climate Model. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L24702 (2010).
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).
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.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
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) doi:10.1038/nclimate2569
Nature Communications (2019)
Natural Variability and Vertical Land Motion Contributions in the Mediterranean Sea-Level Records over the Last Two Centuries and Projections for 2100
Surveys in Geophysics (2019)
Maternal origins induced plasticity in salt adaptability of Avicennia officinalis L. seedlings in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh
Reconstructing Tropical Pacific Sea Level Variability for the Period 1961-2002 Using a Linear Multimode Model
Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (2018)