Interdecadal Sea Level Fluctuations at Hawaii

Yvonne L. Firing School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

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Mark A. Merrifield School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

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Thomas A. Schroeder School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

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Bo Qiu School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

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Abstract

Over the past century, tide gauges in Hawaii have recorded interdecadal sea level variations that are coherent along the island chain. The generation of this signal and its relationship to other interdecadal variability are investigated, with a focus on the last decade. Hawaii sea level is correlated with sea surface height (SSH) over a significant portion of the North Pacific Ocean, and with the Pacific–North America (PNA) index, which represents teleconnections between tropical and midlatitude atmospheric variations. Similar variations extend well below the thermocline in World Ocean Atlas temperature. Comparison with NCEP reanalysis wind and pressure shows that high (low) sea level phases around Hawaii are associated with an increase (decrease) in the strength of the Aleutian low. The associated wind stress curl pattern is dynamically consistent with observed sea level anomalies, suggesting that sea level at Hawaii represents large-scale changes that are directly wind-forced in concert with the PNA. Atmospheric modulation, as opposed to Rossby wave propagation, may explain the linkage of Hawaii sea level to North American sea level and ENSO events. A wind-forced, baroclinic Rossby wave model replicates some aspects of the interdecadal SSH variations and their spatial structure but fails to predict them in detail near Hawaii. The accuracy of wind products in this region and over this time period may be a limiting factor. Variations in mixed layer temperature due to surface heat flux anomalies may also contribute to the interdecadal sea level signal at Hawaii.

Corresponding author address: Yvonne Firing, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822. Email: firing@hawaii.edu

Abstract

Over the past century, tide gauges in Hawaii have recorded interdecadal sea level variations that are coherent along the island chain. The generation of this signal and its relationship to other interdecadal variability are investigated, with a focus on the last decade. Hawaii sea level is correlated with sea surface height (SSH) over a significant portion of the North Pacific Ocean, and with the Pacific–North America (PNA) index, which represents teleconnections between tropical and midlatitude atmospheric variations. Similar variations extend well below the thermocline in World Ocean Atlas temperature. Comparison with NCEP reanalysis wind and pressure shows that high (low) sea level phases around Hawaii are associated with an increase (decrease) in the strength of the Aleutian low. The associated wind stress curl pattern is dynamically consistent with observed sea level anomalies, suggesting that sea level at Hawaii represents large-scale changes that are directly wind-forced in concert with the PNA. Atmospheric modulation, as opposed to Rossby wave propagation, may explain the linkage of Hawaii sea level to North American sea level and ENSO events. A wind-forced, baroclinic Rossby wave model replicates some aspects of the interdecadal SSH variations and their spatial structure but fails to predict them in detail near Hawaii. The accuracy of wind products in this region and over this time period may be a limiting factor. Variations in mixed layer temperature due to surface heat flux anomalies may also contribute to the interdecadal sea level signal at Hawaii.

Corresponding author address: Yvonne Firing, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822. Email: firing@hawaii.edu

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