EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Drivers of sea level variability using neural networks

Linn Carlstedt, Lea Poropat, and Céline Heuzé
Linn Carlstedt et al.
  • University of Gothenburg, Natural Sciences, Geoscience, Sweden (

Understanding the forcing of regional sea level variability is crucial as many people all over the world live along the coasts and are endangered by the sea level rise. The adding of fresh water into the oceans due to melting of the Earth’s land ice together with thermosteric changes has led to a rise of the global mean sea level (GMSL) with an accelerating rate during the twentieth century, and has now reached a mean rate of 3.7 mm per year according to IPCCs latest report. However, this change varies spatially and the dynamics behind what forces sea level variability on a regional to local scale is still less known, thus making it hard for decision makers to mitigate and adapt with appropriate strategies.

Here we present a novel approach using machine learning (ML) to identify the dynamics and determine the most prominent drivers forcing coastal sea level variability. We use a recurrent neural network called Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) with the advantage of learning data in sequences and thus capable of storing some memory from previous timesteps, which is beneficial when dealing with time series. To train the model we use hourly ERA5 10-m wind, mean sea level pressure (MSLP), sea surface temperature (SST), evaporation and  precipitation data between 2009-2017 in the North Sea region. To reduce the dimensionality of the data but still preserve maximal information we conduct principal component analysis (PCA) after removing the climatology which are calculated by hourly means over the years. Depending on the explained variance of the PCs for each driver, 2-4 PCs are chosen and cross-correlated to eliminate collinearity, which could affect the model results. Before being used in the ML model the final preprocessed data are normalized by min-max scaling to optimize the learning. The target data in the model are hourly in-situ sea level observations from West-Terschelling in the Netherlands. Using in-situ observations compared to altimeter data enhances the ability of making good predictions in coastal zones as altimeter data has a tendency to degrade along the coasts. The sea level time series is preprocessed by tidal removal and de-seasoned by subtracting the hourly means. To determine which drivers are most prominent for the sea surface variability in our location, we mute one driver at a time in the training of the network and evaluate the eventual improvement or deterioration of the predictions.

Our results show that the zonal wind is the most prominent forcing of sea level variability in our location, followed by meridional wind and MSLP. While the SST greatly affects the GMSL, SST seems to have little to no effect on local sea level variability compared to other drivers. This approach shows great potential and can easily be applied to any coastal zone and is thus very useful for a broad body of decision makers all over the world. Identifying the cause of local sea level variability will also enable the ability of producing better models for future predictions, which is of great importance and interest.

How to cite: Carlstedt, L., Poropat, L., and Heuzé, C.: Drivers of sea level variability using neural networks, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-849,, 2023.