Sea level on the northwestern European shelf (NWES) varies substantially from year to year. Removing explained parts of interannual sea level variability from observations helps to improve estimates of long-term sea level trends. To this end, the contributions of different drivers to interannual sea level variability need to be understood and quantified. We quantified these contributions for the entire NWES by performing sensitivity experiments with a high-resolution configuration of the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS). The lateral and atmospheric boundary conditions were derived from reanalyses. We compared our model results with satellite altimetry data and used our sensitivity experiments to show that nonlinear feedbacks cause only minor interannual sea level variability on the shelf. This indicates that our experiments can be used to separate the effects of different drivers. We find that wind dominates the variability of annual mean sea level in the southern and eastern North Sea (up to 4.7-cm standard deviation), whereas the inverse barometer effect dominates elsewhere on the NWES (up to 1.7-cm standard deviation). In contrast, forcing at the lateral ocean boundaries results in small and coherent variability on the shelf (0.5-cm standard deviation). Variability driven by buoyancy fluxes ranges from 0.5- to 1.3-cm standard deviation. The results of our sensitivity experiments explain the (anti)correlation between interannual sea level variability at different locations on the NWES and can be used to estimate sea level rise from observations in this region with higher accuracy.
- interannual sea level variability
- northwestern European shelf
- regional ocean model
- satellite altimetry era
- sensitivity experiments