126.96.36.199 Ocean Circulation Changes
The highly non-uniform geographical distribution of steric sea level trends is closely connected, through geostrophic balance, with changes in ocean surface circulation. Density and circulation changes result from changes in atmospheric forcing that is primarily by surface wind stress and buoyancy flux (i.e., heat and freshwater fluxes). The wind alone can therefore cause local (but not global) changes in steric sea level. Ocean general circulation models based on the assimilation of ocean data satisfactorily reproduce the spatial structure of sea level trends for the past decade, and show in particular that the tropical Pacific pattern results from decadal fluctuations in the depth of the tropical thermocline and change in equatorial trade winds (Carton et al., 2005; Köhl et al., 2006). The similarity of the patterns of steric and actual sea level change indicates that density changes are the dominant influence. Discrepancies may indicate a significant contribution from changes in the wind-driven barotropic circulation, especially at high latitudes.
188.8.131.52 Surface Atmospheric Pressure Changes
Surface atmospheric pressure also causes regional sea level variations. Over time scales longer than a few days, the ocean adjusts nearly isostatically to changes in atmospheric pressure (inverted barometer effect), that is, for each 1 hPa sea level pressure increase the ocean is depressed by approximately 10 mm, shifting the underlying mass sideways to other regions. For the temporal average, regional changes in sea level caused by atmospheric pressure loading reach about 0.2 m (e.g., between the subtropical Atlantic and the subpolar Atlantic). Such effects are generally corrected for in tide gauge and altimetry-based sea level analyses. The inverted barometer effect has a negligible effect on global mean sea level, because water is nearly incompressible, but is significant when averaged over the area of T/P and Jason-1 altimetry, which does not cover the whole World Ocean (Ponte, 2006). For that reason, the altimetry-based mean sea level curve is corrected for the inverted barometer effect.