Date: 02 Oct 2013

Intensification of decadal and multi-decadal sea level variability in the western tropical Pacific during recent decades

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Abstract

Previous studies have linked the rapid sea level rise (SLR) in the western tropical Pacific (WTP) since the early 1990s to the Pacific decadal climate modes, notably the Pacific Decadal Oscillation in the north Pacific or Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) considering its basin wide signature. Here, the authors investigate the changing patterns of decadal (10–20 years) and multidecadal (>20 years) sea level variability (global mean SLR removed) in the Pacific associated with the IPO, by analyzing satellite and in situ observations, together with reconstructed and reanalysis products, and performing ocean and atmosphere model experiments. Robust intensification is detected for both decadal and multidecadal sea level variability in the WTP since the early 1990s. The IPO intensity, however, did not increase and thus cannot explain the faster SLR. The observed, accelerated WTP SLR results from the combined effects of Indian Ocean and WTP warming and central-eastern tropical Pacific cooling associated with the IPO cold transition. The warm Indian Ocean acts in concert with the warm WTP and cold central-eastern tropical Pacific to drive intensified easterlies and negative Ekman pumping velocity in western-central tropical Pacific, thereby enhancing the western tropical Pacific SLR. On decadal timescales, the intensified sea level variability since the late 1980s or early 1990s results from the “out of phase” relationship of sea surface temperature anomalies between the Indian and central-eastern tropical Pacific since 1985, which produces “in phase” effects on the WTP sea level variability.