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Keywords:

  • regional sea level rise;
  • dynamical response;
  • tide gauge;
  • satellite altimetry;
  • wind stress curl;
  • thermocline

[1] Long-term changes in global mean sea level (MSL) rise have important practical implications for shoreline and beach erosion, coastal wetlands inundation, storm surge flooding, and coastal development. Altimetry since 1993 indicates that global MSL rise has increased about 50% above the 20th century rise rate, from 2 to 3 mm yr−1. At the same time, both tide gauge measurements and altimetry indicate virtually no increase along the Pacific coast of North America during the satellite epoch. Here we show that the dynamical steric response of North Pacific eastern boundary ocean circulation to a dramatic change in wind stress curl, τxy, which occurred after the mid-1970s regime shift, can account for the suppression of regional sea level rise along this coast since 1980. Alarmingly, mean τxy over the North Pacific recently reached levels not observed since before the mid-1970s regime shift. This change in wind stress patterns may be foreshadowing a Pacific Decadal Oscillation regime shift, causing an associated persistent change in basin-scale τxy that may result in a concomitant resumption of sea level rise along the U.S. West Coast to global or even higher rates.