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The impact of regional multidecadal and century-scale internal climate variability on sea level trends in CMIP5 models

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Carson, M., Koehl, A., & Stammer, D. (2015). The impact of regional multidecadal and century-scale internal climate variability on sea level trends in CMIP5 models. Journal of Climate, 28, 853-861. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00359.1.

Regional sea surface height variability due to internal climate fluctuations is estimated using preindustrial control runs of 21 models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). Projected sea level trends of the representative concentration pathway 4.5 (RCP4.5) scenario for 20-, 50-, and 100-yr intervals grow from being largely dominated by internal variability on shorter time scales to being the dominant sea level signal on long time scales. The internal variability is estimated by calculating overlapping trends for the various time scales on the regional sea level control run output from each model. When compared to the ensemble spread of the RCP4.5 scenario trends, the internal variability remains a substantial portion of the spread even after 50 years. The regional ensemble mean trends are mostly larger than the ensemble spread for the 50-yr interval and are larger everywhere, except for part of the central Arctic and the Southern Ocean for the 100-yr projection. Although it is unclear whether the model internal variability estimate will be comparable to long-term variability in the real ocean, the authors compare the strength of the estimate to satellite altimetry and find that altimetry-based trends may be larger in tropical ocean regions, with only limited extratropical regions rising above the internal variability. The authors also analyze a single model's internal variability against its future RCP4.5-projected sea level and show that, by 50 years, many regional sea level trends are larger than the underlying internal variability, though this variability still accounts for more than a third of the trend magnitude for almost half of the extratropical ocean.