Climate Dynamics

, Volume 46, Issue 9–10, pp 3113–3126 | Cite as

Interannual-to-decadal variability and trends of sea level in the South China Sea

  • Xuhua ChengEmail author
  • Shang-Ping Xie
  • Yan Du
  • Jing Wang
  • Xiao Chen
  • Juan Wang


Interannual-to-decadal variability and trends of sea level in the South China Sea (SCS) are studied using altimetric data during 1993–2012 and reconstructed sea level data from 1950–2009. The interannual variability shows a strong seasonality. Surface wind anomalies associated with El Niño-Southern Oscillation explain the sea-level anomaly pattern in the interior SCS, while Rossby waves radiated from the eastern boundary dominate the sea-level variability in the eastern SCS. Decadal variability of sea level in the SCS follows that in the western tropical Pacific, with large variance found west of Luzon Island. Local atmospheric forcing makes a negative contribution to decadal variability in the central SCS, and Rossby waves radiated from the eastern boundary appear to be important. During 1993–2012, decadal sea level averaged in the SCS is significantly correlated with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) (r = −0.96). The decadal variability associated with the PDO accounts for most part of sea-level trends in the SCS in the last two decades.


Sea level Interannual and decadal variability Altimetric data Rossby waves Pacific Decadal Oscillation 



We wish to thank Prof. Julian P. McCreary for editing the revised manuscript. This study benefited from discussions with Profs. Bo Qiu and Fei-fei Jin. We are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers whose constructive comments helped improve the manuscript. This work was supported by “Strategic Priority Research Program” of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA11010103), the National Basic Research Program of China (2012CB955603), the Natural Science Foundation of China (41176023, 41276108, 41230962), and the U.S. National Science Foundation. X.H.C is also sponsored by the “Youth Innovation Promotion Association”, CAS (SQ201204, LTOZZ1202) and China Scholarship Council.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography, South China Sea Institute of OceanologyChinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of California at San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.Physical Oceanography Laboratory, Qingdao Collaborative Innovation Center of Marine Science and TechnologyOcean University of ChinaQingdaoChina
  4. 4.School of Geography and PlanningSun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouChina

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