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Sensitivity of Twenty-First-Century Global-Mean Steric Sea Level Rise to Ocean Model Formulation

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  • 1 NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Program, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 2 NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey
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Abstract

Two comprehensive Earth system models (ESMs), identical apart from their oceanic components, are used to estimate the uncertainty in projections of twenty-first-century sea level rise due to representational choices in ocean physical formulation. Most prominent among the formulation differences is that one (ESM2M) uses a traditional z-coordinate ocean model, while the other (ESM2G) uses an isopycnal-coordinate ocean. As evidence of model fidelity, differences in twentieth-century global-mean steric sea level rise are not statistically significant between either model and observed trends. However, differences between the two models’ twenty-first-century projections are systematic and both statistically and climatically significant. By 2100, ESM2M exhibits 18% higher global steric sea level rise than ESM2G for all four radiative forcing scenarios (28–49 mm higher), despite having similar changes between the models in the near-surface ocean for several scenarios. These differences arise primarily from the vertical extent over which heat is taken up and the total heat uptake by the models (9% more in ESM2M than ESM2G). The fact that the spun-up control state of ESM2M is warmer than ESM2G also contributes by giving thermal expansion coefficients that are about 7% larger in ESM2M than ESM2G. The differences between these models provide a direct estimate of the sensitivity of twenty-first-century sea level rise to ocean model formulation, and, given the span of these models across the observed volume of the ventilated thermocline, may also approximate the sensitivities expected from uncertainties in the characterization of interior ocean physical processes.

Corresponding author address: Robert Hallberg, NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, 201 Forrestal Rd., Princeton, NJ 08540. E-mail: robert.hallberg@noaa.gov

Abstract

Two comprehensive Earth system models (ESMs), identical apart from their oceanic components, are used to estimate the uncertainty in projections of twenty-first-century sea level rise due to representational choices in ocean physical formulation. Most prominent among the formulation differences is that one (ESM2M) uses a traditional z-coordinate ocean model, while the other (ESM2G) uses an isopycnal-coordinate ocean. As evidence of model fidelity, differences in twentieth-century global-mean steric sea level rise are not statistically significant between either model and observed trends. However, differences between the two models’ twenty-first-century projections are systematic and both statistically and climatically significant. By 2100, ESM2M exhibits 18% higher global steric sea level rise than ESM2G for all four radiative forcing scenarios (28–49 mm higher), despite having similar changes between the models in the near-surface ocean for several scenarios. These differences arise primarily from the vertical extent over which heat is taken up and the total heat uptake by the models (9% more in ESM2M than ESM2G). The fact that the spun-up control state of ESM2M is warmer than ESM2G also contributes by giving thermal expansion coefficients that are about 7% larger in ESM2M than ESM2G. The differences between these models provide a direct estimate of the sensitivity of twenty-first-century sea level rise to ocean model formulation, and, given the span of these models across the observed volume of the ventilated thermocline, may also approximate the sensitivities expected from uncertainties in the characterization of interior ocean physical processes.

Corresponding author address: Robert Hallberg, NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, 201 Forrestal Rd., Princeton, NJ 08540. E-mail: robert.hallberg@noaa.gov
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