, Volume 31, Issue 2-4, pp 515-544

Monitoring sea level changes

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Future sea level rise arouses concern because of potentially deleterious impacts to coastal regions. These will stem not only from the loss of land through inundation and erosion, but also from increased frequency of storm floods, with a rising base level, even with no change in storm climatology, and from saltwater intrusion and greater amounts of waterlogging. Current sea level trends are important in formulating an accurate baseline for future projections. Sea level, furthermore, is an important parameter which integrates a number of oceanic and atmospheric processes. The ocean surface demonstrates considerable variability on diurnal, seasonal, and interannual time scales, induced by winds, storm waves, coastal upwelling, and geostrophic currents. Secular trends in sea level arise from changes in global mean temperature and also from crustal deformation on local to regional scales. The challenge facing researchers is how best to extract the climate signal from this noise.

This paper re-examines recent estimates of sea level rise, discusses causes of variability in the sea level records, and describes methods employed to filter out some of these contaminating signals. Evidence for trends in long-term sea level records and in extreme events is investigated. Application of satellite geodesy to sea level research is briefly reviewed.