North Atlantic ocean circulation and decadal sea level change during the Altimetry era
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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- Geophysical Institute 
Regional sea-level rise is characterized by decadal acceleration and deceleration periods that typically stem from oceanic climate variability. Here, we investigate decadal sea-level trends during the altimetry era and pin down the associated ocean circulation changes. We find that decadal subpolar gyre cooling (warming), strengthening (weakening), widening (shrinking) since the mid-2000s (early 1990s) resulted in negative (positive) sea level trends of −7.1 mm/yr ± 1.3 mm/yr (3.9 mm/yr ± 1.5 mm/yr). These large-scale changes further coincide with steric sea-level trends, and are driven by decadal-scale ocean circulation variability. Sea level on the European shelf, however, is found to correlate well with along-slope winds (R = 0.78), suggesting it plays a central role in driving the associated low-frequency dynamic sea level variability. Furthermore, when the North Atlantic is in a cooling (warming) period, the winds along the eastern boundary are predominantly from the North (South), which jointly drive a slowdown (rapid increase) in shelf and coastal sea level rise. Understanding the mechanisms that produce these connections may be critical for interpreting future regional sea-level trends.