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The Global Ocean Mass Budget in 1993–2003 Estimated from Sea Level Change

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  • 1 Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany
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Abstract

The mass budget of the ocean in the period 1993–2003 is studied with a general circulation model. The model has a free surface and conserves mass rather than volume; that is, freshwater is exchanged with the atmosphere via precipitation and evaporation and inflow from land is taken into account. The mass is redistributed by the ocean circulation. Furthermore, the ocean’s volume changes by steric expansion with changing temperature and salinity. To estimate the mass changes, the ocean model is constrained by sea level measurements from the Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX)/Poseidon mission as well as by hydrographic data. The modeled ocean mass change within the years 2002–03 compares favorably to measurements from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), and the evolution of the global mean sea level for the period 1993–2003 with annual and interannual variations can be reproduced to a 0.15-cm rms difference. Its trend has been measured as 3.37 mm yr−1 while the constrained model gives 3.34 mm yr−1 considering only the area covered by measurements (3.25 mm yr−1 for the total ocean). A steric rise of 2.50 mm yr−1 is estimated in this period, as is a gain in the ocean mass that is equivalent to an eustatic rise of 0.74 mm yr−1. The amplitude and phase (day of maximum value since 1 January) of the superimposed eustatic annual cycle are also estimated to be 4.6 mm and 278°, respectively. The corresponding values for the semiannual cycle are 0.42 mm and 120°. The trends in the eustatic sea level are not equally distributed. In the Atlantic Ocean (80°S–67°N) the eustatic sea level rises by 1.8 mm yr−1 and in the Indian Ocean (80°S–30°N) it rises by 1.4 mm yr−1, but it falls by −0.20 mm yr−1 in the Pacific Ocean (80°S–67°N). The latter is mainly caused by a loss of mass through transport divergence in the Pacific sector of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (−0.42 Sv; Sv ≡ 109 kg s−1) that is not balanced by the net surface water supply. The consequence of this uneven eustatic rise is a shift of the oceanic center of mass toward the Atlantic Ocean and to the north.

Corresponding author address: Jens Schröter, Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Bussestr. 24, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany. Email: jschroeter@awi-bremerhaven.de

This article included in the In Honor of Carl Wunsch special collection.

Abstract

The mass budget of the ocean in the period 1993–2003 is studied with a general circulation model. The model has a free surface and conserves mass rather than volume; that is, freshwater is exchanged with the atmosphere via precipitation and evaporation and inflow from land is taken into account. The mass is redistributed by the ocean circulation. Furthermore, the ocean’s volume changes by steric expansion with changing temperature and salinity. To estimate the mass changes, the ocean model is constrained by sea level measurements from the Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX)/Poseidon mission as well as by hydrographic data. The modeled ocean mass change within the years 2002–03 compares favorably to measurements from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), and the evolution of the global mean sea level for the period 1993–2003 with annual and interannual variations can be reproduced to a 0.15-cm rms difference. Its trend has been measured as 3.37 mm yr−1 while the constrained model gives 3.34 mm yr−1 considering only the area covered by measurements (3.25 mm yr−1 for the total ocean). A steric rise of 2.50 mm yr−1 is estimated in this period, as is a gain in the ocean mass that is equivalent to an eustatic rise of 0.74 mm yr−1. The amplitude and phase (day of maximum value since 1 January) of the superimposed eustatic annual cycle are also estimated to be 4.6 mm and 278°, respectively. The corresponding values for the semiannual cycle are 0.42 mm and 120°. The trends in the eustatic sea level are not equally distributed. In the Atlantic Ocean (80°S–67°N) the eustatic sea level rises by 1.8 mm yr−1 and in the Indian Ocean (80°S–30°N) it rises by 1.4 mm yr−1, but it falls by −0.20 mm yr−1 in the Pacific Ocean (80°S–67°N). The latter is mainly caused by a loss of mass through transport divergence in the Pacific sector of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (−0.42 Sv; Sv ≡ 109 kg s−1) that is not balanced by the net surface water supply. The consequence of this uneven eustatic rise is a shift of the oceanic center of mass toward the Atlantic Ocean and to the north.

Corresponding author address: Jens Schröter, Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Bussestr. 24, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany. Email: jschroeter@awi-bremerhaven.de

This article included in the In Honor of Carl Wunsch special collection.

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