Both the rate and causes of twentieth century global sea-level rise (GSLR) have been controversial. Estimates from tide-gauges range from less than one, to more than two millimetre yr−1. In contrast, values based on the processes mostly responsible for GSLR—mass increase (from mountain glaciers and the great high latitude ice masses) and volume increase (expansion due to ocean warming)—fall below this range. Either the gauge estimates are too high, or one (or both) of the component estimates is too low. Gauge estimates of GSLR have been in dispute for several decades because of vertical land movements, especially due to glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA). More recently, the possibility has been raised that coastal tide-gauges measure exaggerated rates of sea-level rise because of localized ocean warming. Presented here are two approaches to a resolution of these problems. The first is morphological, based on the limiting values of observed trends of twentieth century relative sea-level rise as a function of distance from the centres of the ice loads at last glacial maximum. This observational approach, which does not depend on a geophysical model of GIA, supports values of GSLR near 2 mm yr−1. The second approach involves an analysis of long records of tide-gauge and hydrographic (in situ temperature and salinity) observations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It was found that sea-level trends from tide-gauges, which reflect both mass and volume change, are 2–3 times higher than rates based on hydrographic data which reveal only volume change. These results support those studies that put the twentieth century rate near 2 mm yr−1, thereby indicating that mass increase plays a much larger role than ocean warming in twentieth century GSLR.
One contribution of 20 to a Theme Issue ‘Sea level science’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society