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Sea-level change and storm surges in the context of climate change

This paper reviews the latest research in New Zealand surrounding the issues of sea-level rise and extreme sea levels in the context of global warming and variability in the Pacific-wide El Nino– Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Past records of climate, sea level (excluding tides) and sea and air temperatures have shown that they are continuously fluctuating over various long-term timescales of years, decades and centuries. This has made it very difficult to determine whether the anthropogenic effects such as increased levels of “greenhouse” gases are having an accelerating effect on global sea levels or an increased incidence of extreme storms. Over the past century, global sea level has risen by 10–25 cm, and is in line with the rise in relative sea level at New Zealand’s main ports of +1.7 mm yr –1. What has become very clear is the need to better understand interannual (year-to-year) and decadal variability in sea-level, as these larger signals of the order of 5–15 cm in annual-mean sea level have a significant “flow-on” effect on the long-term trend in sea level. The paper describes sea level variability in northern New Zealand—both long- and short-term—involved in assessing the regional trends in sea level. The paper also discusses the relative contributions of tides, barometric pressure and wind set-up in causing extreme sea levels during storm surges. Some recent research also looked at a related question—Is there any sign of increased storminess, and hence storm surge, in northern New Zealand due to climate change? The paper concludes that, while no one can be completely sure how sea-level and the degree of storminess will respond in the near future, what is clear is that interannual and decadal variability in sea level is inextricably linked with Pacific-wide ENSO response and longer inter-decadal shifts in the Pacific climate regime, such as the latest shift in 1976.
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Bell, R. G., Goring, D. G. & de Lange, W. P. (2000). Sea-level change and storm surges in the context of climate change. IPENZ Transactions, 27(1), 1- 10.
This article has been published in the journal: IPENZ Transactions. Copyright 2000 IPENZ.