Impact of Continental Mass Change on Rate-of-Rise of Sea Level

Impact of Continental Mass Change on Rate-of-Rise of Sea Level

Baur, O., Kuhn, M. and Featherstone, W.E. 2013. Continental mass change from GRACE over 2002-2011 and its impact on sea level. Journal of Geodesy 87: 117-125.
The authors write that “present-day continental mass variation as observed by space gravimetry reveals secular mass decline and accumulation,” and that “whereas the former contributes to sea-level rise, the latter results in sea-level fall.” Therefore, they state that “consideration of mass accumulation (rather than focusing solely on mass loss) is important for reliable overall estimates of sea-level change.”

What was done
Employing data derived from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment – the GRACE satellite mission – Baur et al. assessed continental mass variations on a global scale, including both land-ice and land-water contributions, for 19 continental areas that exhibited significant signals. This they did for a nine-year period (2002-2011), which included “an additional 1-3 years of time-variable gravity fields over previous studies.” And to compensate for the impact of glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA), they applied the GIA model of Paulson et al. (2007).

What was learned
Over the nine years of their study, the three researchers report that the mean GIA-adjusted mass gain and mass loss in the 19 areas of their primary focus amounted to -(0.7 ± 0.4 mm/year) of sea-level fall and +(1.8 ± 0.6) mm/year of sea-level rise, for a net effect of +(1.1 ± 0.6) mm/year. Then, to obtain a figure for total sea-level change, they added the steric component of +(0.5 ± 0.5) mm/year, which was derived by Leuliette and Willis (2011), to their net result to obtain a final (geocenter neglected) result of +(1.6 ± 0.8) mm/year and a final (geocenter corrected) result of +(1.7 ± 0.8) mm/year.

What it means
The final geocenter-corrected result of Baur et al. is most heartening, as Chambers et al. (2012) indicate that “sea level has been rising on average by 1.7 mm/year over the last 110 years,” as is also suggested by the analyses of Church and White (2006) and Holgate (2007). Concomitantly, the air’s CO2 concentration has risen by close to a third. And, still, it has not impacted the rate-of-rise of global sea level!

Chambers, D.P, Merrifield, M.A. and Nerem, R.S. 2012. Is there a 60-year oscillation in global mean sea level? Geophysical Research Letters 39: 10.1029/2012GL052885.

Church, J.A. and White, N.J. 2006. A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise. Geophysical Research Letters 33: 10.1029/2005GL024826.

Holgate, S.J. 2007. On the decadal rates of sea level change during the twentieth century. Geophysical Research Letters 34: 10.1029/2006GL028492.

Paulson, A., Zhong, S. and Wahr, J. 2007. Inference of mantle viscosity from GRACE and relative sea level data. Geophysical Journal International 171: 497-508.

Reviewed 3 July 2013

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