Climate Dynamics

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 347-354

First online:

Dynamic sea level changes following changes in the thermohaline circulation

  • Anders LevermannAffiliated withPotsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Email author 
  • , Alexa GrieselAffiliated withPotsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
  • , Matthias HofmannAffiliated withPotsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
  • , Marisa MontoyaAffiliated withFacultad de Ciencias Fisicas, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
  • , Stefan RahmstorfAffiliated withPotsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

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Using the coupled climate model CLIMBER-3α, we investigate changes in sea surface elevation due to a weakening of the thermohaline circulation (THC). In addition to a global sea level rise due to a warming of the deep sea, this leads to a regional dynamic sea level change which follows quasi-instantaneously any change in the ocean circulation. We show that the magnitude of this dynamic effect can locally reach up to ~1 m, depending on the initial THC strength. In some regions the rate of change can be up to 20–25 mm/yr. The emerging patterns are discussed with respect to the oceanic circulation changes. Most prominent is a south-north gradient reflecting the changes in geostrophic surface currents. Our results suggest that an analysis of observed sea level change patterns could be useful for monitoring the THC strength.