Is anthropogenic sea level fingerprint already detectable in the Pacific Ocean over the satellite altimetry era?
Event: 2015 Ocean Surface Topography Science Team Meeting
Session: Science III: Large scale and global change ocean processes: the ocean's role in climate
Presentation type: Type Oral
Contribution: PDF file
Sea level rates up to three times the global mean rate are being observed in the western tropical Pacific since 1993 by satellite altimetry. From recently published studies, it is not yet clear whether the sea level spatial trend patterns of the Pacific Ocean observed by satellite altimetry are mostly due to internal climate variability or if some anthropogenic fingerprint is already detectable. A number of recent studies have shown that the removal of the signal corresponding to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)/ Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) from the observed altimetry sea level data over 1993-2010/2012 results in some significant residual trend pattern in the western tropical Pacific. It has thus been suggested that the PDO/IPO-related internal climate variability alone cannot account for all of the observed trend patterns in the western tropical Pacific and that the residual signal could be the fingerprint of the anthropogenic forcing. In this study, we investigate if there is any other internal climate variability signal still present in the residual trend pattern after the removal of IPO contribution from the altimetry-based sea level over 1993-2013. We show that subtraction of the IPO contribution to sea level trends through the method of linear regression does not totally remove the internal variability, leaving significant signal related to the non-linear response of sea level to El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). In addition, by making use of 21 CMIP5 coupled climate models, we study the contribution of external forcing to the Pacific Ocean regional sea level variability over 1993-2013. We show that CMIP5 based externally forced (that includes anthropogenic fingerprint) sea level spatial trend pattern in the tropical Pacific over the altimetry period do not display any positive sea level trend values that are comparable to the altimetry based sea level signal after having removed the contribution of the decadal natural climate mode. Moreover, the CMIP5 based externally forced sea level trend amplitude in the tropical Pacific is significantly lower than the expected error in trend patterns from satellite altimetry. This suggests that satellite altimetry measurement is still not accurate enough to detect the anthropogenic signal in the 20 year tropical Pacific sea level trends.