Can we dismiss the effect of changes in land‐based water storage on sea‐level rise?

Hydrological Processes



The rate of global mean sea-level rise (SLR) during the 20th century is estimated to be 1.7 mm yr−1 ±0.3 yr−1 (Church and White, 2006). SLR during the 20th century was a result of thermal expansion of the oceans and the release of water from terrestrial storage reservoirs (Bindoff et al., 2007). The latter process is thought to be dominated by the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, but human alterations to the landscape and climate-change driven feedbacks may also affect land-based water storage (Gornitz et al., 1997; Mitrovica et al., 2001; Bindoff et al., 2007). Estimates of the amount of SLR that can be explained by the combination of thermosteric effects and the melting of ice and snow consistently underestimate SLR determined from observations based on tide gages and satellite altimetry (Gornitz et al., 1997; Church et al.,2001; Miller and Douglas, 2004; Lombard et al., 2006; Bindoff et al.,2007). Refinements in estimates of changes in volumes of land ice and thermosteric effects have reduced the component of SLR that remains unexplained between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change third assessment (Church et al., 2001) and current estimates (Lombard et al., 2006).

Anthropogenic alterations that result in or imply net land-to-ocean transfers include groundwater depletion (GWD), sedimentation in reservoirs, wetland loss, surface water depletion (SWD), and deforestation. GWD occurs when the rate of withdrawal exceeds the rate of recharge over decadal time scales (Sahagian, 2000; Konikow and Kendy, 2005).SWD occurs when the rate of withdrawal from rivers, lakes or impound-ments exceeds natural inputs to these water bodies (Falkenmark andLannerstad, 2005; Haddeland et al., 2006). There are also indirect effects of human alterations of the landscape, such as deforestation and desertification that can affect local or regional precipitation and, ultimately, reduce recharge and decrease water storage in soils and underlying aquifers (Wang and Eltahir, 2000). Anthropogenic or climate-driven changes in land use can affect albedo and alter energy and water budgets resulting in changes in soil moisture storage. Climate feedbacks can also alter terrestrial water balance (Milly et al., 2003) and hydrologic conditions in permafrost environments (Hinzman et al., 2005). Anthropogenicalterations that result in ocean-to-land transfers include reservoir construction for surface water storage and leakage of water impounded behind dams into underlying aquifers (Vorosmarty and Sahagian, 2000).

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Can we dismiss the effect of changes in land‐based water storage on sea‐level rise?
Series title Hydrological Processes
DOI 10.1002/hyp.7001
Volume 22
Issue 5
Year Published 2008
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) New England Water Science Center
Description 7 p.
First page 717
Last page 723