Persistent acceleration in global sea-level rise since the 1960s


Previous studies reconstructed twentieth-century global mean sea level (GMSL) from sparse tide-gauge records to understand whether the recent high rates obtained from satellite altimetry are part of a longer-term acceleration. However, these analyses used techniques that can only accurately capture either the trend or the variability in GMSL, but not both. Here we present an improved hybrid sea-level reconstruction during 1900–2015 that combines previous techniques at time scales where they perform best. We find a persistent acceleration in GMSL since the 1960s and demonstrate that this is largely (~76%) associated with sea-level changes in the Indo-Pacific and South Atlantic. We show that the initiation of the acceleration in the 1960s is tightly linked to an intensification and a basin-scale equatorward shift of Southern Hemispheric westerlies, leading to increased ocean heat uptake, and hence greater rates of GMSL rise, through changes in the circulation of the Southern Ocean.

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Fig. 1: Performance of the HR in comparison to satellite altimetry and tide gauges.
Fig. 2: GMSL from the HR and satellite altimetry during 1900–2015.
Fig. 3: Regional origin of the GMSL acceleration plateau since the 1960s.
Fig. 4: Role of Southern Hemispheric wind forcing.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on request. The GMSL data from the hybrid reconstruction presented in Fig. 2 are provided as Supplementary Data 1.

Code availability

The codes for the hybrid reconstruction are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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We are grateful to the International Space Science Institute (Bern, Switzerland) for support of the International Team ‘Towards a Unified Sea Level Record’, the University of Siegen for the funding of the interdisciplinary research project ‘PEPSEA’, and the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung for the funding of the project ‘MSL Absolut’ (funding number: 03KIS116). S.D further acknowledges a visiting scientist fellowship of the University of the Balearic Islands and the FOKOS of the University of Siegen for funding a research stay at the Boston College. C.G.P. was supported by NSF awards OCE-1558966 and OCE-1834739. We acknowledge T. Wahl and R. Gehrels for providing comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Author information

S.D. designed and performed the research and wrote the first draft of the paper. C.H. and F.M.C contributed their results/codes for the Kalman Smoother and the RSOI approach, respectively. C.G.P. helped with the assessment of the wind forcing. K.B. contributed to the coding of the statistical analysis tools. All authors shared ideas and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Sönke Dangendorf.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Graham Quartly and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–10 and references.

Supplementary Data 1

Contains the monthly GMSL estimate with the associated uncertainties from the hybrid reconstruction.

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