Decadal and long-term sea level variability in the tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean

In this study, we analysed decadal and long-term steric sea level variations over 1966-2007 period in the Indo-Pacific sector, using an ocean general circulation model forced by reanalysis winds. The simulated steric sea level compares favourably with sea level from satellite altimetry and tide gauges at interannual and decadal timescales. The amplitude of decadal sea level variability (up to ~5 cm standard deviation) is typically nearly half of the interannual variations (up to ~10 cm) and two to three times larger than long-term sea level variations (up to 2 cm). Zonal wind stress varies at decadal timescales in the western Pacific and in the southern Indian Ocean, with coherent signals in ERA-40 (from which the model forcing is derived), NCEP, twentieth century and WASWind products. Contrary to the variability at interannual timescale, for which there is a tendency of El Ni\~no and Indian Ocean Dipole events to co-occur, decadal wind stress variations are relatively independent in the two basins. In the Pacific, those wind stress variations drive Ekman pumping on either side of the equator, and induce low frequency sea level variations in the western Pacific through planetary wave propagation. The equatorial signal from the western Pacific travels southward to the west Australian coast through equatorial and coastal wave guides. In the Indian Ocean, decadal zonal wind stress variations induce sea level fluctuations in the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, through equatorial and coastal wave-guides. Wind stress curl in the southern Indian Ocean drives decadal variability in the south-western Indian Ocean through planetary waves. Decadal sea level variations in the south-western Indian Ocean, in the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean and in the Bay of Bengal are weakly correlated to variability in the Pacific Ocean. Even though the wind variability is coherent among various wind products at decadal timescales, they show a large contrast in long-term wind stress changes, suggesting that long-term sea level changes from forced ocean models need to be interpreted with caution.
Year of Publication
Climate Dynamics
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