Determining the response of sea level to atmospheric pressure forcing using TOPEX/POSEIDON data


  • Lee-Lueng Fu,

  • Greg Pihos


The static response of sea level to the forcing of atmospheric pressure, the so-called inverted barometer (IB) effect, is investigated using TOPEX/POSEIDON data. This response, characterized by the rise and fall of sea level to compensate for the change of atmospheric pressure at a rate of −1 cm/mbar, is not associated with any ocean currents and hence is normally treated as an error to be removed from sea level observation. Linear regression and spectral transfer function analyses are applied to sea level and pressure to examine the validity of the IB effect. In regions outside the tropics, the regression coefficient is found to be consistently close to the theoretical value except for the regions of western boundary currents, where the mesoscale variability interferes with the IB effect. The spectral transfer function shows near IB response at periods from 20 to 300 days. The regression coefficient averaged over the regions poleward of 30 degrees is −0.84±0.29 cm/mbar (1 standard deviation). The deviation from −1 cm/mbar is shown to be caused primarily by the effect of wind forcing on sea level, based on a multivariate linear regression model involving both pressure and wind forcing. The regression coefficient for pressure resulting from the multivariate analysis is −0.96±0.32 cm/mbar. In the tropics the multivariate analysis fails because sea level in the tropics is primarily responding to remote wind forcing. However, after removing from the data the wind-forced sea level estimated by a dynamic model of the tropical Pacific, the pressure regression coefficient improves from −1.22±0.69 cm/mbar to −0.99±0.46 cm/mbar, clearly revealing an IB response. The result of the study suggests that with a proper removal of the effect of wind forcing the IB effect is valid in most of the open ocean at periods longer than 20 days and spatial scales larger than 500 km.