Global sea level has been rising over the past half century, according to tide-gauge data1,2. Thermal expansion of oceans, melting of glaciers and loss of the ice masses in Greenland and Antarctica are commonly considered as the largest contributors, but these contributions do not entirely explain the observed sea-level rise1. Changes in terrestrial water storage are also likely to affect sea level3,4,5,6, but comprehensive and reliable estimates of this contribution, particularly through human water use, are scarce1. Here, we estimate sea-level change in response to human impacts on terrestrial water storage by using an integrated model that simulates global terrestrial water stocks and flows (exclusive to Greenland and Antarctica) and especially accounts for human activities such as reservoir operation and irrigation. We find that, together, unsustainable groundwater use, artificial reservoir water impoundment, climate-driven changes in terrestrial water storage and the loss of water from closed basins have contributed a sea-level rise of about 0.77 mm yr−1 between 1961 and 2003, about 42% of the observed sea-level rise. We note that, of these components, the unsustainable use of groundwater represents the largest contribution.
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We thank T. Ngo-Duc, H. Kim and Y. Wada for providing various data sets. We also thank C. R. Ferguson and J. Cho for the constructive comments on the manuscript. Y.N.P. acknowledges support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan. This research was supported by the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (S-5, S-8) of the Ministry of the Environment, Japan; KAKUSHIN Program of the MEXT; Japan Society for the Promotion of Science–KAKENHI, Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S) (23226012) and Research Program on Climate Change Adaptation (RECCA), MEXT.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Pokhrel, Y., Hanasaki, N., Yeh, P. et al. Model estimates of sea-level change due to anthropogenic impacts on terrestrial water storage. Nature Geosci 5, 389–392 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1476
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