Perspectives on present-day sea level change: a tribute to Christian le Provost

Edited: 2011-02-21
TitlePerspectives on present-day sea level change: a tribute to Christian le Provost
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsLombard, A., A. Cazenave, P. - Y. Le Traon, S. Guinehut, and C. Cabanes
JournalOcean Dynamics
Date Published12/2006
Keywordsice, sea_level, steric, tide_gauge
AbstractIn this paper, we first discuss the controversial result of the work by Cabanes et al. (Science 294:840 842, 2001), who suggested that the rate of past century sea level rise may have been overestimated, considering the limited and heterogeneous location of historical tide gauges and the high regional variability of thermal expansion which was supposed to dominate the observed sea level. If correct, this conclusion would have solved the problem raised by the IPCC third assessment report [Church et al, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 881, 2001], namely, the factor two difference between the 20th century observed sea level rise and the computed climatic contributions. However, recent investigations based on new ocean temperature data sets indicate that thermal expansion only explains part (about 0.4 mm/year) of the 1.8 mm/year observed sea level rise of the past few decades. In fact, the Cabanes et al.’s conclusion was incorrect due to a contamination of abnormally high ocean temperature data in the Gulf Stream area that led to an overestimate of thermal expansion in this region. In this paper, we also estimate thermal expansion over the last decade (1993 2003), using a new ocean temperature and salinity database. We compare our result with three other estimates, two being based on global gridded data sets, and one based on an approach similar to that developed here. It is found that the mean rate of thermosteric sea level rise over the past decade is 1.5±0.3 mm/year, i.e. 50% of the observed 3 mm/year by satellite altimetry. For both time spans, past few decades and last decade, a contribution of 1.4 mm/year is not explained by thermal expansion, thus needs to be of water mass origin. Direct estimates of land ice melt for the recent years account for about 1 mm/year sea level rise. Thus, at least for the last decade, we have moved closer to explaining the observed rate of sea level rise than the IPCC third assessment report.