Climatic Drivers of Extreme Sea Level Events Along the Coastline of Western Australia

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Accurate prediction of coastal flooding requires a detailed understanding of all individual contributions to sea level variability and how they interact to trigger extreme sea level (ESL) events. In this study, we focus on the expansive (∼10,000 km) coastline of Western Australia, a region that experiences large latitudinal gradients in met-ocean sources of sea level variability, as a case study to investigate the mechanisms responsible for ESLs and trends over the past 54 years (1966–2019). Using long-term sea level records from tide gauges and satellite altimetry, we explore how different contributions to sea level variability at different time scales (from hourly to interannual) interact to generate ESLs. We observe that all individual, nontidal contributions to ESLs (i.e., atmospheric surge, seasonal and interannual variability) are of similar magnitude (of order 10 cm) along the entire coast and comparable to the tidal variations in the microtidal southwestern region. The results reveal the important role that seasonal and interannual sea level variability plays in generating ESLs, with these low-frequency contributions being relatively large compared to typical global values. With mean sea level having risen by ∼10 cm over this 54-year study period, sea level rise was also identified as making an increasingly significant contribution to observed increases in the frequency of ESLs. Overall, due to the comparatively large magnitude of low-frequency sea level contributions (seasonal and longer), the Western Australia coast provides a useful case study to investigate how sustained periods of elevated sea level will impact coastlines worldwide more broadly in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020EF001620
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


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