Analyzing the Effect of Ocean Internal Variability on Depth-Integrated Steric Sea-Level Rise Trends Using a Low-Resolution CESM Ensemble

E. Hogan and R. Sriver

Water (1 July 2017)

DOI: 10.3390/w9070483


Ocean heat uptake is a key indicator of climate change, in part because it contributes to sea-level rise. Quantifying the uncertainties surrounding ocean heat uptake and sea-level rise are important in assessing climate-related risks. Here, comprehensive global climate model ensembles are used to evaluate uncertainties surrounding decadal trends in depth-integrated global steric sea-level rise due to thermal expansion of the ocean. Results are presented against observational estimates, which are used as a guide to the state of recent literature. The first ensemble uses the Community Earth System Model (CESM), which samples the effects of internal variability within the coupled Earth system including contributions from the sub-surface ocean. We compare and contrast these results with an ensemble based on the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), which samples the combined effects of structural model differences and internal variability. The effects of both internal variability and structural model differences contribute substantially to uncertainties in modeled steric sea-level trends for recent decades, and the magnitude of these effects varies with depth. The 95% range in total sea-level rise trends across the CESM ensemble is 0.151 mm·year−1 for 1957–2013, while this range is 0.895 mm·year−1 for CMIP5. These ranges increase during the more recent decade of 2005–2015 to 0.509 mm·year−1 and 1.096 mm·year−1 for CESM and CMIP5, respectively. The uncertainties are amplified for regional assessments, highlighting the importance of both internal variability and structural model differences when considering uncertainties surrounding modeled sea-level trends. Results can potentially provide useful constraints on estimations of global and regional sea-level variability, in particular for areas with few observations such as the deep ocean and Southern Hemisphere.

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