Date of Award

Winter 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Ocean & Earth Sciences

Committee Director

Benjamin Hamlington

Committee Director

John Klinck

Committee Member

Tal Ezer


Over the past several years, there has been several studies focused on reconstructing global mean sea level (GMSL) for the 20th century, along with projecting rates out into the future. Of greater importance for mitigation and adaptation plans, however, is the rate of local or regional sea level (RSL) rise. Ocean dynamics along with changes in Earth’s gravitational field can cause RSL to deviate from the change in GMSL. During the satellite altimeter era covering the past two decades, RSL trends can be four times the global average, with much of this spatial variation due to internal climate variability. Isolating the long-term signal that may be expected to persist into the future, or from which an acceleration can be estimated, is a challenge with the short satellite record. Prior to the satellite altimeter era, tide gauges must be used to study past sea level variability. Tide gauges suffer from sampling challenges that make regional studies difficult, and as a result, there has been relatively little discussion and few comprehensive efforts on reproducing long-term RSL trends.

This work aims to determine the 20th century regional pattern of sea level rise by reducing the tide gauge data to a usable subset and taking into account the factors that cause spatial variability in trends on long time-scales. This provides an estimate of secular changes leading to RSL rise associated with anthropogenic affects. Either exacerbating or suppressing these regional trends is natural internal climate variability. By determining the frequency and magnitude of these inter-annual to decadal events, we can determine a baseline of future RSL along the East and West coast of the United states. This is an important step for mitigation and adaptation plans, since high frequency events such as storms and high tides will be coupled with RSL rise, causing increased flooding and inundation. As such, we will determine future nuisance flooding in Norfolk, VA, arising from a combination of sea level contributors from tides to internal climate variability.


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