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Model projections of rapid sea-level rise on the northeast coast of the United States

Nature Geoscience volume 2, pages 262266 (2009) | Download Citation


Human-induced climate change could cause global sea-level rise. Through the dynamic adjustment of the sea surface in response to a possible slowdown of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation1,2, a warming climate could also affect regional sea levels, especially in the North Atlantic region3, leading to high vulnerability for low-lying Florida and western Europe4,5,6. Here we analyse climate projections from a set of state-of-the-art climate models for such regional changes, and find a rapid dynamical rise in sea level on the northeast coast of the United States during the twenty-first century. For New York City, the rise due to ocean circulation changes amounts to 15, 20 and 21 cm for scenarios with low, medium and high rates of emissions respectively, at a similar magnitude to expected global thermal expansion. Analysing one of the climate models in detail, we find that a dynamic, regional rise in sea level is induced by a weakening meridional overturning circulation in the Atlantic Ocean, and superimposed on the global mean sea-level rise. We conclude that together, future changes in sea level and ocean circulation will have a greater effect on the heavily populated northeastern United States than estimated previously7,8,9.

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We thank T. L. Delworth, J. M. Gregory, A. Hu, T. F. Stocker, G. A. Vecchi and M. Winton for comments and suggestions. We also thank many others at GFDL for carrying out the IPCC AR4 integrations and providing computer and model support. We acknowledge other climate modelling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI), the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) and the Office of Science, US Department of Energy. J.Y. is supported by the US Department of Energy (Grant No. DE-FG02-07ER64470).

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  1. Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306, USA

    • Jianjun Yin
  2. Climate Research Group, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA

    • Michael E. Schlesinger
  3. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, New Jersey 08542, USA

    • Ronald J. Stouffer


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Correspondence to Jianjun Yin.

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