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Water 2017, 9(6), 402; doi:10.3390/w9060402

Interannual and Decadal Variability in Tropical Pacific Sea Level

Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Aixue Hu
Received: 29 April 2017 / Revised: 30 May 2017 / Accepted: 2 June 2017 / Published: 5 June 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sea Level Changes)
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Abstract

A notable feature in the first 20-year satellite altimetry records is an anomalously fast sea level rise (SLR) in the western Pacific impacting island nations in this region. This observed trend is due to a combination of internal variability and external forcing. The dominant mode of dynamic sea level (DSL) variability in the tropical Pacific presents as an east-west see-saw pattern. To assess model skill in simulating this variability mode, we compare 38 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) models with 23-year satellite data, 55-year reanalysis products, and 60–year sea level reconstruction. We find that models underestimate variance in the Pacific sea level see-saw, especially at decadal, and longer, time scales. The interannual underestimation is likely due to a relatively low variability in the tropical zonal wind stress. Decadal sea level variability may be influenced by additional factors, such as wind stress at higher latitudes, subtropical gyre position and strength, and eddy heat transport. The interannual variability of the Niño 3.4 index is better represented in CMIP5 models despite low tropical Pacific wind stress variability. However, as with sea level, variability in the Niño 3.4 index is underestimated on decadal time scales. Our results show that DSL should be considered, in addition to sea surface temperature (SST), when evaluating model performance in capturing Pacific variability, as it is directly related to heat content in the ocean column. View Full-Text
Keywords: sea level rise; climate variability; Pacific Ocean; climate modelling; wind stress sea level rise; climate variability; Pacific Ocean; climate modelling; wind stress
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Peyser, C.E.; Yin, J. Interannual and Decadal Variability in Tropical Pacific Sea Level. Water 2017, 9, 402.

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