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

Abstract

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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Figure 1: Multi-model ensemble mean projection of the dynamic sea level.
Figure 2: Climate projections by the GFDL CM2.1.
Figure 3: Dynamic sea levels in the GFDL CM2.1.
Figure 4: Contributions of the steric effect and ocean mass redistribution to the dynamic SLR.

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Acknowledgements

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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Yin, J., Schlesinger, M. & Stouffer, R. Model projections of rapid sea-level rise on the northeast coast of the United States. Nature Geosci 2, 262–266 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo462

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