NASA notes sea level is falling in press release – but calls it a "Pothole on Road to Higher Seas"

From the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab

The red line in this image shows the long-term increase in global sea level since satellite altimeters began measuring it in the early 1990s. Since then, sea level has risen by a little more than an inch each decade, or about 3 millimeters per year. While most years have recorded a rise in global sea level, the recent drop of nearly a quarter of an inch, or half a centimeter, is attributable to the switch from El Niño to La Niña conditions in the Pacific. The insets show sea level changes in the Pacific Ocean caused by the recent El Niño and La Niña (see http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/science/elninopdo for more information on these images). Image credit: S. Nerem, University of Colorado

NASA Satellites Detect Pothole on Road to Higher Seas

An Update from NASA’s Sea Level Sentinels:

Like mercury in a thermometer, ocean waters expand as they warm. This, along with melting glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, drives sea levels higher over the long term. For the past 18 years, the U.S./French Jason-1, Jason-2 and Topex/Poseidon spacecraft have been monitoring the gradual rise of the world’s ocean in response to global warming.

While the rise of the global ocean has been remarkably steady for most of this time, every once in a while, sea level rise hits a speed bump. This past year, it’s been more like a pothole: between last summer and this one, global sea level actually fell by about a quarter of an inch, or half a centimeter.

So what’s up with the down seas, and what does it mean? Climate scientist Josh Willis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., says you can blame it on the cycle of El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific.

Willis said that while 2010 began with a sizable El Niño, by year’s end, it was replaced by one of the strongest La Niñas in recent memory. This sudden shift in the Pacific changed rainfall patterns all across the globe, bringing massive floods to places like Australia and the Amazon basin, and drought to the southern United States.

Data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center’s twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) spacecraft provide a clear picture of how this extra rain piled onto the continents in the early parts of 2011. “By detecting where water is on the continents, Grace shows us how water moves around the planet,” says Steve Nerem, a sea level scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

So where does all that extra water in Brazil and Australia come from? You guessed it–the ocean. Each year, huge amounts of water are evaporated from the ocean. While most of it falls right back into the ocean as rain, some of it falls over land. “This year, the continents got an extra dose of rain, so much so that global sea levels actually fell over most of the last year,” says Carmen Boening, a JPL oceanographer and climate scientist. Boening and colleagues presented these results recently at the annual Grace Science Team Meeting in Austin, Texas.

But for those who might argue that these data show us entering a long-term period of decline in global sea level, Willis cautions that sea level drops such as this one cannot last, and over the long-run, the trend remains solidly up. Water flows downhill, and the extra rain will eventually find its way back to the sea. When it does, global sea level will rise again.

“We’re heating up the planet, and in the end that means more sea level rise,” says Willis. “But El Niño and La Niña always take us on a rainfall rollercoaster, and in years like this they give us sea-level whiplash.”

For more information on NASA’s sea level monitoring satellites, visit: http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/ , http://sealevel.colorado.edu , http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace/ and http://grace.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

h/t to WUWT reader “Pete”

==========================================

[UPDATE by willis]

I trust that Anthony won’t mind if I expand a bit on this question. NASA adduces the following map (Figure 2) showing where they claim the water went.

Figure 2. GRACE satellite changes in land water. Note that for all of the screaming about Greenland melting … it gained ice over the period of the year. In any case, red and blue areas are somewhere near equal, as would be more apparent if they didn’t use a Mercator projection that exaggerates the blue area in the Northern hemisphere.

The sea level was going up at about 3 mm per year. In the last year it fell about 6 mm. So that’s a change of about a centimetre of water that NASA says has fallen on land and been absorbed rather than returned to the ocean. But of course, the land is much smaller than the ocean … so for the ocean to change by a centimetre, the land has to change about 2.3 cm.

To do that, the above map would have to average a medium blue well up the scale … and it’s obvious from the map that there’s no way that’s happening. So I hate to say this, but their explanation doesn’t … hold water …

I suspected I’d find this when I looked, because in the original press release the authors just said:

“This year, the continents got an extra dose of rain, so much so that global sea levels actually fell over most of the last year,” says Carmen Boening.

When people make claims like that, with no numbers attached, my Urban Legend Detector™ goes off like crazy … and in this case, it was right.

Best to all, thanks to Anthony.

w.

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John in NZ

“This year, the continents got an extra dose of rain, .”
I wonder how much of it fell on Antarctica as snow?

Infuriating.

Edim

It’s getting harder and harder to be warmist these days. One have to explain away:
– cooling
– decreasing sea level
– increasing global sea ice (coming soon)
– decreasing atmospheric CO2 (coming soon)

The post reads: “Willis said that while 2010 began with a sizable El Niño, by year’s end, it was replaced by one of the strongest La Niñas in recent memory.”
The only ENSO index showing the 2010/11 La Nina as being “the strongest La Niñas in recent memory” is the MEI. It’s not the strongest based on NINO3.4 SST anomalies or NINO3.4 Sea Level anomalies:
http://i53.tinypic.com/wi4lc0.jpg
We discussed the impacts of ENSO on Sea Level not too long ago, beating NASA to the punch on this one:
http://bobtisdale.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/1st-quarter-2011-sea-level-anomaly-update-and-an-initial-look-at-the-impacts-of-enso-on-global-sea-level/
And the cross post here at WUWT:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/08/18/tisdale-on-2011-sea-level-changes/

So, like how long does it take rain to make it back to the ocean? When it rains here in New Hampshire, the river level respond quickly, then drop over a few days. In the summer, trees suck the ground dry pretty quickly.
OTOH, how long does it take snow to make it back to the ocean? It has to melt first. Perhaps not all of the snow from last winter melted yet, it certainly took (is taking) its jolly good time in the northwest US and I hear is piling up in New Zealand.
Or perhaps I’m just having trouble wrapping my head around “sea level has hit a pothole.”

Hmm. When we were discussing the divergence between Detrended Sea Level Anomalies and the MEI…
http://i51.tinypic.com/b5l007.jpg
…on this thread…
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/08/18/tisdale-on-2011-sea-level-changes/
…I don’t recall precipitation being discussed. That’ll give me another place to look if I ever get back to it again.

P Walker

So , sea levels have dropped globally because of heavy precipitation , eh ? This sounds like the same reasoning that leads to “experts” claiming that cooling is masking the warming . Or that the Mt. Pinatubo eruption is somehow responsible for the flattening of temps over a decade after the fact .

Jason Calley

Two points:
@ Bob Tisdale, Willis said “one of the strongest La Niñas” but you are criticizing him as if he said “the strongest La Niñas”. Surely you understand the difference.
Second point, perhaps some of this extra precipitation (which is lowering sea levels) will see fit to stay underground and help recharge the world’s aquifers — the same aquifers that have been raising sea level as we pumped them dry to run into the sea.

steveta_uk

Bob Tisdale says:
August 24, 2011 at 8:07 am
The post reads: “Willis said that while 2010 began with a sizable El Niño, by year’s end, it was replaced by one of the strongest La Niñas in recent memory.”

Doesn’t this depend on how long Willis’s memory is?

Honest ABE

Obviously this could have nothing to do global temps flat-lining for the past 10 years. If that was the case, and all other variables equal, that could mean the sea level rise deceleration has reached a point where we’ll see no more increases for a decade or two – or even some more reductions.

DesertYote

“JPL oceanographer AND climate scientist”
###
I guess all it takes is staying on-message to be ranked a climate scientist.

Nick Shaw

I don’t see what all the questioning is about. Zero said he was going to lower the sea level and he did! Just sayin’.

Beesaman

Only some rainwater, less than 30% (according to the USGS), makes it back to the ocean, the rest goes underground or back into the sky.
http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/earthrain.html
But I guess any excuse will do for pretending that natural cycles are more important than man made models. But that’s the curse of AGM (Anthropogenic Global Modelling)…..

Frank K.

“We’re heating up the planet, and in the end that means more sea level rise,” says Willis.
This line pretty much sums up this mindless bit of press release pablum.

Let’s see, looks like we are headed to a double dip La Nina so if Josh is correct, we may not see the bottom of the pot hole until some time next summer. Gavin Schmidt has maintained that sea level change (which is related to total ocean heat content) is a good indicator of climate direction. This will be interesting to watch.

“Like mercury in a thermometer, ocean waters expand as they warm.”
But oceans do not warm.
http://climexp.knmi.nl/data/ihadsst2gl_2001:2011a.png
“This, along with melting glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica..”
Antarctica cools in the last decades and sea ice pack grows. What’s meting exactly there?
Josh is an as*****.

“Willis cautions that sea level drops such as this one cannot last, and over the long-run, the trend remains solidly up”
So, sea level decrease cannot happen? What about the LIttle Ice Age and all of the other evidence of changing sea level up and down over the ages? SUre the trend is upwards at the moment, but knowing that climate both warms and cools, he sure seems bent on seeing it only one way, particularly in the face of two cooling ocean cycles and a somnambulant Sun.
“We’re heating up the planet, and in the end that means more sea level rise,” says Willis.
The fact that warming has not occurred in 15 years or so does not seem to affect his world view. He reminds me of those who think that the Flintstones is a documentary.

Disko Troop

I am getting confused again. Last year the Warmista were telling me that the floods and droughts were because of global warming. Now they need to have the floods and droughts caused by La Nina/El Nino so that they can use it to explain falling sea levels, but Global warming is still going to make the sea level rise again after its finished whatever it is off doing this year, (Alerting Aliens to our presence perhaps). I need them to get their story straight. It is enough to make one want to row to a random point in the Canadian arctic to get away from it all.

TheGoodLocust says:
August 24, 2011 at 8:25 am

Obviously this could have nothing to do global temps flat-lining for the past 10 years.

lex parsimoniae is decidedly absent from the typical hysteric’s toolbox. Elegant simplicity is so yesterday… When you are the product of years of elaborate conspiracy theories and a general lack of professional accountability, it is an easy jump to the convoluted and labyrinthine “CO2 causes everything” consensus.

We’re heating up the planet, and in the end that means more sea level rise,” says Willis.
That is only partly true. I found the CO2 acts as a fertilizer, increasing vegetation.
It is the increased vegetation causing the (extra) warming
So now what?
We have to tell the greenies to stop planting trees and gardens.
http://www.letterdash.com/HenryP/more-carbon-dioxide-is-ok-ok

Stephen Wilde

Doesn’t La Nina reduce energy transfer from ocean to air such that ocean heat content and thus ocean volume should RISE and not fall ?
Bob Tisdale has previously referred to El Nino as a discharge of energy and La Nina as a recharge.
If that were so then the only reason for a FALL during La Nina would be a reduction of solar energy getting into the oceans sufficient to more than offset the recharge ability of the La Nina.
That puts global albedo back in the frame because it seems to have been increasing over recent years.
As regards the speculation about the missing volume having gone into more rainfall over land isn’t that effect an order of magnitude or more LESS than that required to alter total ocean volume by the amount implied from the observations ?

Pullease. Water flows down hill?
And it never gets captured in aquifers or underground streams and lakes?
My biggest problem with this cm level data here is the overall accuracy of 3 cms:
http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/technology/
So all this is basically in the noise.

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.
This is a little bit off topic, but I find it hysterical that Lucia who runs the Blackboard site will not post temperatures of the arctic. She is obsessed with ice melting but apparently doesn’t want to understand why the ice is melting. It is truly amazing that they scream about the northern ice cap melting but refuse to show temperatures. I guess the only answer is that global warming is affecting the wind patterns.

Gary

That’s quite a pothole for one year. Biggest drop in two decades. Even with southern New England’s oscillating freeze/thaw winters, we don’t get them that deep.

NigelP

Can someone please show on that chart above when there were el nino’s and la nina’s? Then we can check whether or not the present drop is concurrent to some/all of them? It will also help to know wether each of them is causing a predictable trend (assuming of course that the ‘mean sea level’ is accurate or sensible).
The comment “…and over the long-run, the trend remains solidly up.” is borderline non-sequitur. Trends only apply to data that you already have, not the unknown future data.

Eric Gisin

Ocean mixing can also cause sea levels to fall. Thermal expansion (dV/dT) is not constant, it near 0 at 0C and increases with temp. If you mix 9 parts 0C with 1 part 30C you get a smaller volume of 3C. If wonder if climate scientist are aware of this?

It’s pretty clear what’s happening: global warming is evaporating the oceans.
Extrapolating this trend in models, I find that by 2100 there will be a sea level of zero. That’s right, no more oceans.
Maybe you denialists don’t need oceans, but there’s no reason the rest of humanity has to be dragged down with you.

Latitude

Well, you can’t fake it forever I guess….
….when Envisat was launched, showed falling sea levels and they adjusted it back up to what the computer climate models said sea level rise should be……..
they can’t keep adjusting it back up forever…………….

John T

Stay tuned next year for news of an “unprecedented rise” in sea levels (back to the trend line).

Pamela Gray

The press release is devoid of scientific content and seems aimed at what they believe are flat-earth sceptical snaggle toothed bloggers. Yeh, that be me.

Breckite

NASA = HOGWASH. We need to stop funding this corrupt, bureaucratic propaganda machine.

RobB

Precipitation my a**!! I don’t believe it for a moment. More like the cooling oceans reducing the sea level.

Bill Illis

The decline in sea level is more like 10 mms over the past 18 months.
The atmospheric water vapour level declined by about 1 mm, ie. fell as rain. So the amount that was evaporated from the oceans previously and then dropped on land over the past year (to stay there for a period of time) would just be a small fraction of that number.

Mike M

Water flows downhill, and the extra rain will eventually find its way back to the sea.

That’s a huge assumption that ignores the possibility of an ensuing longer term negative ENSO phase which will tend to sustain the greater amount of rainfall.
Of course they could add yet another correction factor to their calculation to hide the decline, an ‘abnormally large rainfall correction’ to along with their isostatic land rise adjustment. (Like a Monty Python sketch, you’ll be asleep on the beach getting a nice tan and someone will wake you to declare that you are in fact drowning but just don’t know it yet. )
Somebody wake me up when they ultimately stoop to claiming sea level is dropping because snow isn’t melting fast enough which is because of ….’climate change’!

Bob Diaz

Let’s see, sea level rise is proof of Global Warming and sea level drop is move proof of global warming just wait …
Now I don’t know if I should laugh or cry…

Henry Galt

“…sea-level whiplash.”
In your mind.

Physics Major

Obama said, “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow”.
It’s just as predicted. Amazing. /sarc

Resourceguy

At least the water runoff excuse will allow time for recharge of biased press releases.

John W

For comparison:
6mm drop is about 480 cubic miles of water while all the worlds rivers are about 509 cubic miles of water.
Although, it would constitute just less than a 2% increase in surface water (lakes, rivers, swamps).
[Sniff test] [?]
http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/earthwherewater.html
http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/infopage/oceans.htm

R. de Haan

It’s just like the Global temperatures.
They’re going down now but in the near future the inevitable thermogeddon will kill us all.
In other words, we’re always right even if we’re wrong.

Ralph

>>So where does all that extra water in Brazil and Australia come from?
>>You guessed it–the ocean.
And where does all that heat go, too?
How many gw or tw does that represent – turning warm oceans into cold rain or even colder snow, and radiating the difference into the atmosphere and beyond? And if we are having a double-dip la Nina, the world will soon be quite a bit colder. Yes, or no?
.

pat

Of course the models predicted this drop./

Oh, so now they can’t find the missing water.
Absent minded folk, these climate scientists, no? Never give them your car keys.

Lars P

As Steven Goddard shows:
http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/hiding-the-decline-in-sea-level/#more-32692
envisat is not showing any sea level rise. Maybe would be interesting to see envisat sea level plotted with sea water average temperature:
http://climexp.knmi.nl/data/ihadsst2gl_2001:2011a.png
looks like pretty good fit to me.

“So, like how long does it take rain to make it back to the ocean? When it rains here in New Hampshire, the river level respond quickly, then drop over a few days. In the summer, trees suck the ground dry pretty quickly.”
Out here in the west we capture the rain and it never makes it back to the sea. http://lakepowell.water-data.com/

Gary Pearse

I wondered why the data was not being updated for about 5 months. The datasets seem to always stop wben something inconvenient is happening while they cook a reason or add on a factor. Look for the pothole to be filled in. (WHat would a psychologist make of this term)

FerdinandAkin

It seems sea level is falling and it is because of missing volume in the oceans. I think they should look for the missing ocean volume in the same neighborhood as Trenberth’s missing heat.
The oceans are missing some volume and it is a travesty that we cannot account for it.

Meanwhile in the real world…
http://calderup.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/cern-experiment-confirms-cosmic-ray-action/
“Ion-induced nucleation [cosmic ray action] will manifest itself as a steady production of new particles [molecular clusters] that is difficult to isolate in atmospheric observations because of other sources of variability but is nevertheless taking place and could be quite large when averaged globally over the troposphere [the lower atmosphere].”

Nuke

@Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd. says:
I suggest Lucia’s site would be a better place to post this.
And btw: The arctic ice pack is affected by the winds. Even NASA admits this.

Nuke

You guys are obviously looking at the raw data. The adjusted data shows sea levels rising.