A new paper by Dr. Nicola Scafetta of Duke University examines the relationship of natural, solar-driven ocean oscillations such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) to the changes in rate of sea level rise. He finds no correlation with atmospheric carbon dioxide or temperature.
Before I get into the Scafetta paper, here is some background.
Measuring sea level is more complicated than pounding a stake into a beach. Ideally, global sea level would be a rotating oblate ellipsoid of polar radius of 6365.752 km and equatorial radius of 6378.137 km in absence of any other forces. Gravity distorts this ideal shape to make it lumpy.
There are daily and seasonal variations, and storm surges in addition to the oscillations mentioned above. There are tectonic events: is the ocean rising or is the land sinking? Also, extraction of groundwater near coasts may cause the land to sink and present an apparent rise in sea level. All these confounding factors can produce a local rate of sea level change very different from global rate of change.
Since the end of the last glacial epoch, sea level has risen 120 meters (393 feet), about one meter per century. Sea level is still rising at the rate of 1- to 3mm per year, according to NOAA, about the thickness of one or two pennies.
As you can see from the figure, the rate of sea level rise has changed on broad time scales. Scafetta has found patterns of acceleration and deceleration of rise at much smaller time scales.
Scafetta studied six long-term tidal gauge records sited to represent all of the world’s oceans. He found the rate of sea level rise “…to be characterized by significant oscillations at the decadal and multidecadal scales up to about 110-year intervals. Within these scales both positive and negative accelerations are found if a record is sufficiently long. This result suggests that acceleration patterns in tide gauge records are mostly driven by the natural oscillations of the climate system. The volatility of the acceleration increases drastically at smaller scales such as at the bi-decadal ones.”
“Tide gauge accelerations oscillate significantly from positive to negative values mostly following the PDO, AMO and NAO oscillations. In particular, the influence of a large quasi 60–70 year natural oscillation is clearly demonstrated in these records.”
A conclusion from this paper has implications for climate model predictions: “at scales shorter than 100-years, the measured tide gauge accelerations are strongly driven by the natural oscillations of the climate system (e.g. PDO, AMO and NAO). At the smaller scales (e.g. at the decadal and bi-decadal scale) they are characterized by a large volatility due to significant decadal and bi-decadal climatic oscillations. Therefore, accelerations, as well as linear rates evaluated using a few decades of data (e.g. during the last 20-60 years) cannot be used for constructing reliable long-range projections of sea-level for the twenty first century.”
The cyclical nature of the rate of sea level rise, and its quite variable accelerations and decelerations at different time scales may explain why different researchers get different rate values. So, scary stories saying we are doomed because of acceleration in the rate of sea level rise, such as the ‘science fiction” stories linked below, should be taken with a grain of salt.
Reference: Scafetta, N., 2013, Multi-scale dynamical analysis (MSDA) of sea level records versus PDO, AMO, and NAO indexes, Climate Dynamics, DOI 10.1007/s00382-013-1771-3.
See the full paper here.