Pacific Sea Level Rise Pattern and Global Warming Hiatus
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Two important topics in current climate research are the global warming hiatus and the seesaw pattern of sea level rise (SLR) in the Pacific Ocean. We use ocean temperature and sea-level observations along with CMIP5 climate modelling data to investigate the relationship between the warming hiatus and sea-level variability in the Pacific Ocean. We analyse ocean heat content (OHC) trend by basin and layer for the full record (1945-2012) as well as the hiatus period (1998-2012). The result confirms the importance of the Pacific for heat uptake during the hiatus. Notably, the subsurface layer of the Pacific shows significant increase in OHC during the hiatus and a strong east-west compensation. This is mainly responsible for and reflected by the seesaw pattern of the Pacific sea level through thermosteric effect. The control simulations from 38 CMIP5 models indicate that the seesaw pattern of SLR in the Pacific is mainly a feature of decadal to multidecadal variability. Most CMIP5 models can capture this variability, especially in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation region (poleward of 20°N). The CMIP5 control runs show that during periods of negative trends of global temperatures (analogous to hiatus decades in a warming world), sea level increases in the western Pacific and decreases in the eastern Pacific. The opposite is true during periods of positive temperature trend (accelerated warming). These results suggest that a possible flip of the Pacific SLR seesaw would imply a resumption of surface warming and a SLR acceleration along the U.S. West Coast.