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Chathurika Wickramage
Armin Köhl
Johann Jungclaus
, and
Detlef Stammer


The dependence of future regional sea level changes on ocean model resolution is investigated based on Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM) simulations with varying spatial resolution, ranging from low resolution (LR), high resolution (HR), to eddy-rich (ER) resolution. Each run was driven by the shared socioeconomic pathway (SSP) 5-8.5 (fossil-fueled development) forcing. For each run the dynamic sea level (DSL) changes are evaluated by comparing the time mean of the SSP5-8.5 climate change scenario for the years 2080–99 to the time mean of the historical simulation for the years 1995–2014. Respective results indicate that each run reproduces previously identified large-scale DSL change patterns. However, substantial sensitivity of the projected DSL changes can be found on a regional to local scale with respect to model resolution. In comparison to models with parameterized eddies (HR and LR), enhanced sea level changes are found in the North Atlantic subtropical region, the Kuroshio region, and the Arctic Ocean in the model version capturing mesoscale processes (ER). Smaller yet still significant sea level changes can be found in the Southern Ocean and the North Atlantic subpolar region. These sea level changes are associated with changes in the regional circulation. Our study suggests that low-resolution sea level projections should be interpreted with care in regions where major differences are revealed here, particularly in eddy active regions such as the Kuroshio, Antarctic Circumpolar Current, Gulf Stream, and East Australian Current.

Significance Statement

Sea level change is expected to be more realistic when mesoscale processes are explicitly resolved in climate models. However, century-long simulations with eddy-resolving models are computationally expensive. Therefore, current sea level projections are based on climate models in which ocean eddies are parameterized. The representation of sea level by these models considerably differs from actual observations, particularly in the eddy-rich regions such as the Southern Ocean and the western boundary currents, implying erroneous ocean circulation that affects the sea level projections. Taking this into account, we review the sea level change pattern in a climate model with featuring an eddy-rich ocean model and compare the results to state-of-the-art coarser-resolution versions of the same model. We found substantial DSL differences in the global ocean between the different resolutions. Relatively small-scale ocean eddies can hence have profound large-scale effects on the projected sea level which may affect our understanding of future sea level change as well as the planning of future investments to adapt to climate change around the world.

Open access