IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Reconstructions of Sea Level Change during the Last 50 Years Based on Satellite Altimetry and Tide Gauges

Attempts have been made to reconstruct historical sea level fields by combining the near-global coverage from satellite altimeter data with the longer but spatially sparse tide gauge records (Chambers et al., 2002; Church et al., 2004). These sea level reconstructions use the short altimeter record to determine the principal EOF of sea level variability, and the tide gauge data to estimate the evolution of the amplitude of the EOFs over time. The method assumes that the geographical patterns of decadal sea level trends can be represented by a superposition of the patterns of variability that are manifest in interannual variability. The sea level for the period 1870 to 2000 (Church and White, 2006) shown in Figure 5.13 is based on this approach. As a caveat, note that variability on different time scales may have different characteristic patterns (see Section

The trends in the EOF amplitudes (and the implied global correlations) allow the reconstruction of a spatially variable rate of sea level rise. Figure 5.16a (updated from Church et al., 2004) shows the geographical distribution of linear sea level trends for 1955 to 2003 based on this reconstruction technique. Comparison with the altimetry-based trend map for the shorter period (1993 to 2003) indicates quite different geographical patterns. These differences mainly arise from thermal expansion changes through time (see Section 5.5.3)

Changes in spatial sea level patterns through time may help reconcile apparently inconsistent estimates of regional variations in tide-gauge based sea level rise. For example, the minimum in rise along the northwest Australian coast is consistent with the results of Lambeck (2002) in having smaller rates of sea level rise and indeed sea level fall off north-western Australia over the last few decades. In addition, for the North Atlantic Ocean, the rate of rise reaches a maximum (over 2 mm yr–1) in a band running east-northeast from the US east coast. The trends are lower in the eastern than in the western Atlantic (Lambeck et al., 1998; Woodworth et al., 1999; Mitrovica et al., 2001).

Figure 5.16

Figure 5.16. (a) Geographic distribution of long-term linear trends in mean sea level (mm yr–1) for 1955 to 2003 based on the past sea level reconstruction with tide gauges and altimetry data (updated from Church et al., 2004) and (b) geographic distribution of linear trends in thermal expansion (mm yr–1) for 1955 to 2003 (based on temperature data down to 700 m from Ishii et al., 2006). Note that colours in (a) denote 1.6 mm yr–1 higher values than those in (b).