Redistribution of sea level rise associated with enhanced greenhouse warming: a simple model study

Future sea level rise from thermal expansion of the World Ocean due to global warming has been explored in several recent studies using coupled ocean-atmosphere models. These coupled models show that the heat input by the model atmosphere to the ocean in such an event could be quite non-uniform in different areas of the ocean. One of the most significant effects predicted by some of the models is a weakening of the thermohaline circulation, which normally transports heat poleward. Since the greatest heat input from enhanced greenhouse warming is in the higher latitudes, a weakening of the poleward heat transport effectively redistributes the heat anomaly and the associated sea level rise to lower latitudes. In this study, the mechanism of ocean circulation spindown and heat redistribution was studied in the context of a much simpler, linearized shallow water model. Although the model is much simpler than the three-dimensional ocean circulation models used in the coupled model experiments, and neglects several important physical effects, it has a nearly 10-fold increase in horizontal resolution and clearer dynamical interpretations. The results indicated that advanced signals of sea level rise propagated rapidly through the action of Kelvin and Rossby waves, but the full adjustment toward a more uniform sea level rise took place much more slowly. Long time scales were required to redistribute mass through narrow currents trapped along coasts and the equatorial wave guide. For realistic greenhouse warming, the model showed why the sea level rise due to ocean heating could be far from uniform over the globe and hence difficult to estimate from coastal tide gauge stations.
Year of Publication
Climate Dynamics
Number of Pages
Date Published