EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Local and remote forcing of sea-level variation off the northeast US coast

Tong Lee1, Ou Wang1, Christopher Piecuch2, Ichiro Fukumori1, Ian Fenty1, Thomas Frederikse1,3, Dimitris Menemenlis1, Rui Ponte4, and Hong Zhang1
Tong Lee et al.
  • 1NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, United States of America
  • 2Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, United States of America
  • 3University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America
  • 4Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc., Lexington, Massachusetts, United States of America

The relative contributions of local and remote wind stress and air-sea buoyancy forcing to sea-level variations along the East Coast of the United States are not well quantified, hindering the understanding of sea-level predictability there. Here, we use an adjoint sensitivity analysis together with an Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) ocean state estimate to establish the causality of interannual sea-level variations near the Nantucket island, the approximate geographic center of the northeast US coast where sea-level fluctuations are coherent. Wind forcing explains 68% of the Nantucket interannual sea-level variance, while wind and buoyancy forcing together explain 97% of the variance. Wind stress contribution is near-local, primarily from the New England shelf northeast of Nantucket. We disprove a previous hypothesis about Labrador Sea wind stress being an important driver of Nantucket sea-level variations and another hypothesis suggesting local wind stress being a secondary driver. Buoyancy forcing, as important as wind stress in some years, includes local contributions as well as remote contributions from the subpolar North Atlantic that influence Nantucket sea level a few years later. Our rigorous adjoint-based analysis corroborates previous correlation-based studies that sea-level variations in the subpolar gyre and the northeast US coast can both be influenced by subpolar buoyancy forcing. Forward forcing perturbation experiments further indicate remote buoyancy forcing affects Nantucket sea level mostly through slow advective processes, although waves can cause rapid Nantucket sea level response within a few weeks. Our results quantifying the spatial distribution of forcing contributions to Nantucket sea-level variations are also useful for the development of machine-learning models for predicting sea-level variation off the northeast US coast.

How to cite: Lee, T., Wang, O., Piecuch, C., Fukumori, I., Fenty, I., Frederikse, T., Menemenlis, D., Ponte, R., and Zhang, H.: Local and remote forcing of sea-level variation off the northeast US coast, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-3342,, 2022.