Global Sea Rise: a Redetermination

Bruce C. Douglas
Dept. of Geography
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742


In press Surveys in Geophysics, 1996


It is well established that sea level trends obtained from tide gauge records shorter than about 50-60 years are corrupted by interdecadal sea level variation. However, only a fraction (<25%) of even the long records exhibit globally consistent trends, because of vertical crustal movements. The coherent trends are from tide gauges not at collisional plate boundaries, and not located in or near areas deeply ice-covered during the last glaciation. Douglas (1991), using ICE-3G values for the postglacial (PGR) rebound correction, found 21 usable records (minimum length 60 years, average 76) in 9 oceanographic groups that gave a mean trend of 1.8 mm/yr +/- 0.1 for the period 1880-1980. In that analysis, a significant inconsistency of PGR-corrected U.S. east coast trends was noted, but not resolved. Now, even after eliminating those trends, more (24) long records (minimum 60 years, average 83) are available, including series in the southern hemisphere not previously used. The mean trend of the newly-selected records is also 1.8 mm/yr +/- 0.1 for sea level rise over the last 100+ years. A somewhat smaller set of longer records in 8 groups (minimum 70 years, average 91) gives 1.9 mm/yr +/- 0.1 for the mean trend. These values are about an order of magnitude larger than the average over the last few millennia. The recent (in historical terms) dramatic increase in the rate of global sea level rise has not been explained, and no acceleration during the last century has been detected. This situation requires additional investigation and confirmation. VLBI/GPS/absolute gravity measurements of crustal motions can be used to correct a large number of long tide gauge records not now usable because of vertical crustal movements, improving the geographic coverage of usable sea level trends. Direct altimetric satellite determinations of global sea level rise from satellites such as TOPEX/POSEIDON and its successors can provide an independent estimate in possibly a decade or so, and thereby ascertain whether or not there has been any recent change in the rate of global sea level rise.