Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Unpuzzling the sea-level budget


We can look at sea-level change as a puzzle: the total sea-level change, obtained from tide gauges and satellites, represents the final picture we want to put together. The different processes that contribute to sea-level change are the pieces of the puzzle, such as glaciers losing mass and thermal expansion of the oceans. Depending on how each process affects sea level, they can be classified as mass change or steric change. Once we have all the pieces, we can solve the puzzle and obtain the final image. This is the sea-level budget. When the sum of the contributions to sea-level change is equal to the total sea-level, the budget is closed (i.e., the puzzle is solved). Recent studies were able to close the global mean sea-level budget for the last decade. However, there are large variations in sea-level across the world. While global mean rates were about 3mm/year for the last decade, regional values can range up to 15 mm/year. Although global values are good indicators of the global climate change, regional values are necessary for mitigation and adaptation plans to sea-level rise. Our project aims on closing the regional sea-level budget in the satellite era (since 1993).

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