• Open Access

Gulf Stream's induced sea level rise and variability along the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast

Authors

  • Tal Ezer,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA
    • Corresponding author: T. Ezer, Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Old Dominion University, 4111 Monarch Way, Norfolk, VA 23508, USA. (tezer@odu.edu)

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  • Larry P. Atkinson,

    1. Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA
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  • William B. Corlett,

    1. Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA
    2. University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
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  • Jose L. Blanco

    1. Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA
    2. BlueWater Consultant, Santiago, Chile
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Abstract

[1] Recent studies indicate that the rates of sea level rise (SLR) along the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast have accelerated in recent decades, possibly due to a slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and its upper branch, the Gulf Stream (GS). We analyzed the GS elevation gradient obtained from altimeter data, the Florida Current transport obtained from cable measurements, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index, and coastal sea level obtained from 10 tide gauge stations in the Chesapeake Bay and the mid-Atlantic coast. An Empirical Mode Decomposition/Hilbert-Huang Transformation (EMD/HHT) method was used to separate long-term trends from oscillating modes. The coastal sea level variations were found to be strongly influenced by variations in the GS on timescales ranging from a few months to decades. It appears that the GS has shifted from a 6–8 year oscillation cycle to a continuous weakening trend since about 2004 and that this trend may be responsible for recent acceleration in local SLR. The correlation between long-term changes in the coastal sea level and changes in the GS strength was extremely high (R = −0.85 with more than 99.99% confidence that the correlation is not zero). The impact of the GS on SLR rates over the past decade seems to be larger in the southern portion of the mid-Atlantic Bight near Cape Hatteras and is reduced northward along the coast. The study suggests that regional coastal sea level rise projections due to climate change must take into account the impact of spatial changes in ocean dynamics.

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