Sea level rise - not so much
Aug 27, 2012
Bishop Hill in Climate: WG2

Thanks to Richard Tol for alerting me to a new paper by Torben Schmith and Peter Thejll of the Danish Meteorological Institute and Søren Johansen of the University of Copenhagen. Johansen is an econometrician and an expert in co-integration, a technique that the new paper applies to the question of sea level rise.

Global sea level rise is widely understood as a consequence of thermal expansion and melting of glaciers and land-based ice caps. Due to the lack of representation of ice-sheet dynamics in present-day physically-based climate models, semi-empirical models have been applied as an alternative for projecting of future sea levels. There are in this, however, potential pitfalls due to the trending nature of the time series. We apply a statistical method called cointegration analysis to observed global sea level and land-ocean surface temperature, capable of handling such peculiarities. We find a relationship between sea level and temperature and find that temperature causally depends on the sea level, which can be understood as a consequence of the large heat capacity of the ocean. We further find that the warming episode in the 1940s is exceptional in the sense that sea level and warming deviates from the expected relationship. This suggests that this warming episode is mainly due to internal dynamics of the ocean rather than external radiative forcing. On the other hand, the present warming follows the expected relationship, suggesting that it is mainly due to radiative forcing. In a second step, we use the total radiative forcing as an explanatory variable, but unexpectedly find that the sea level does not depend on the forcing. We hypothesize that this is due to a long adjustment time scale of the ocean and show that the number of years of data needed to build statistical models that have the relationship expected from physics exceeds what is currently available by a factor of almost ten.

I haven't had time to read the paper (which is not online to the best of my knowledge), but Richard tells me that the authors come up with figure for sea-level rise of 30 cm of sea level rise per degree C of warming -- which is rather lower than Rahmstorf and Vermeer.

Article originally appeared on (
See website for complete article licensing information.