Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans








Based on the satellite altimeter data, sea level off the west coast of the United States has increased over the past 5 years, while sea level in the western tropical Pacific has declined. Understanding whether this is a short‐term shift or the beginning of a longer‐term change in sea level has important implications for coastal planning efforts in the coming decades. Here, we identify and quantify the recent shift in Pacific Ocean sea level, and also seek to describe the variability in a manner consistent with recent descriptions of El Nino‐Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and particularly the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). More specifically, we extract two dominant modes of sea level variability, one related to the biennial oscillation associated with ENSO and the other representative of lower‐frequency variability with a strong signal in the northern Pacific. We rely on cyclostationary empirical orthogonal function (CSEOF) analysis along with sea level reconstructions to describe these modes and provide historical context for the recent sea level changes observed in the Pacific. As a result, we find that a shift in sea level has occurred in the Pacific Ocean over the past few years that will likely persist in the coming years, leading to substantially higher sea level off the west coast of the United States and lower sea level in the western tropical Pacific. Sea level in the Pacific has undergone a shift in the past 5 years, with sea level in the eastern (western) Pacific rising (falling) Sea level variability in the Pacific Ocean has been separated into a biennial oscillation mode and a decadal mode This shift appears to result from a change of phase of a low‐frequency climate signal, that could continue on for the next several years


©2016 American Geophysical Union

Original Publication Citation

Hamlington, B. D., Cheon, S. H., Thompson, P. R., Merrifield, M. A., Nerem, R. S., Leben, R. R., & Kim, K. Y. (2016). An ongoing shift in Pacific Ocean sea level. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 121(7), 5084-5097. doi:10.1002/2016JC011815


0000-0002-2315-6425 (Hamlington)