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Under-estimated wave contribution to coastal sea-level rise


Coastal communities are threatened by sea-level changes operating at various spatial scales; global to regional variations are associated with glacier and ice sheet loss and ocean thermal expansion, while smaller coastal-scale variations are also related to atmospheric surges, tides and waves. Here, using 23 years (1993–2015) of global coastal sea-level observations, we examine the contribution of these latter processes to long-term sea-level rise, which, to date, have been relatively less explored. It is found that wave contributions can strongly dampen or enhance the effects of thermal expansion and land ice loss on coastal water-level changes at interannual-to-multidecadal timescales. Along the US West Coast, for example, negative wave-induced trends dominate, leading to negative net water-level trends. Accurate estimates of past, present and future coastal sea-level rise therefore need to consider low-frequency contributions of wave set-up and swash.

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Change history

  • 23 July 2018

    In the version of this Article originally published, there were a number of errors in the main text, the Supplementary Information, the Methods and Figures that needed to be corrected as a result of a coding error when quantifying the wave contributions to sea level rise. In the ‘Interannual-to-multidecadal changes’ section of the main text, from the sentence beginning “Overall, the median...”, ‘55%’ has been corrected to ‘58%’; in the following sentence, “This large contribution is globally evenly distributed...” has been adjusted to “This large contribution is distributed...”, and ‘28%’ and ‘27%’ have been corrected to ‘38%’ and ‘20%’, respectively; and in the sentence following that, ‘39%’ and ‘16%’ have been corrected to ‘36%’ and ‘17%’, respectively. In the ‘Sensitivity to the wave set-up and swash formulation.’ section of the Methods, in equation (5), ’0.756’, ‘0.165’ and ‘0.0368’ have been corrected to ‘0.757’, ‘0.167’ and ‘0.044 H02’, respectively; in the sentence beginning ‘Wave contribution to...’, ‘55%’ has been corrected to ‘28%’; the following sentence has been corrected to read: “On average, swell contribution to the total wave contribution are of 64% for all three formulations.”; and in the final sentence, ‘(i) (49% and 51%...)’ has been corrected to ‘(ii) (41% and 59%...)’, ‘(iii) (36% and 64%...)’ has been corrected to ‘(i) (34% and 66%...)’, and ‘(ii) (19% and 81%...)’ has been corrected to ‘(iii) (25% and 75%...)’. In the ‘Significance of the trends.’ section of the Methods, in the final sentence '(Galápagos Islands, Callao, Clipperton Island and Tumaco)...' has been corrected to read '(Galápagos Islands and Tumaco)…'. In the online versions of the article, Figs 2–4 and Supplementary Figs 2–9 have been replaced to correct erroneous results that were the consequence of the coding error. All these figures are available as Supplementary Information to this correction notice.


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The authors are grateful to all people and institutions who provided data used in this study, including F. Lyard for providing FES2014 tidal data. R.A. received support from French grants through ANR (COASTVAR ANR-14-ASTR-0019). B.M. and G.L.C. received funding from the ECLISEA (European advances on CLImate services for coasts and SEAs) project, funded through the ERA4CS (European Research Area for Climate Services) framework. This work was supported by the CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales). It is based on observations from the Topex/Poseidon and Jason 1/2 missions. This work is a contribution to the LEFE/IMPHALA project.

Author information

A.M. performed the analysis, created all figures and wrote the early drafts and final version of the manuscript. A.M., B.M. and R.A. participated in the elaboration of the study and early drafts. R.A. computed the contributions from waves. All authors participated in the interpretation of the results, in text revisions and in the final versions of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Angélique Melet.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–9 and Supplementary note

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Schematic of processes contributing to total water-level changes at the coast.
Fig. 2: Contributions to extreme events.
Fig. 3: Contribution to interannual-to-multidecadal total water-level variations.
Fig. 4: Contribution to total water-level trends.