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Keywords:

  • Sea level change;
  • Global change from geodesy;
  • Atlantic Ocean

SUMMARY

This paper presents estimates of rates of mean sea level (MSL) change around the UK, based on a larger tide gauge data set and more accurate analysis methods than have been employed so far. The spatial variation of the trend in MSL is found to be similar to that inferred from geological information and from advanced geodetic techniques, which is a similar conclusion to that arrived at in the previous studies. The tide gauge MSL trends for 1901 onwards are estimated to be 1.4 ± 0.2 mm yr−1 larger than those inferred from geology or geodetic methods, suggesting a regional sea level rise of climate change origin several one-tenths of mm per year lower than global estimates for the 20th century. However, UK MSL change cannot be described in terms of a simple linear increase alone but includes variations on interannual and decadal timescales. The possible sources of variation in a ‘UK sea level index’ are explored. Air pressure is clearly one such possible source but its direct local forcing through the ‘inverse barometer’ accounts for only one-third of the observed variability. A number of larger scale atmospheric and ocean processes must also play important roles, but modelling them satisfactorily and separating the individual contributions present a major challenge. As regards future regional UK sea level changes, we conclude that there is no basis for major modification to existing projections for the 2080s included in the 2002 UK Climate Impacts Programme studies.