Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Gary T. Mitchum


Arctic Oscillation, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, Rossby waves, sea level, storminess, tide gauges


Decadal variations in climate are important, because the magnitude of sustained decadal change is often much larger than the often discussed background trends. Climate variability at interannual and longer periods is most often discussed in the context of climate modes defined by sea level pressure (SLP) and sea surface temperature (SST) patterns. However, SLP and SST are not capable descriptors of ocean dynamics. The approximately two decades of global sea surface height (SSH) measurements from satellite altimetry reveal substantial low-frequency redistributions of heat and salt in the ocean, which may or may not be related to defined climate modes. In addition, coastal sea level responds directly to synoptic variability in the atmosphere, providing long records of weather events in coastal areas. The unifying idea in the following analyses is the value and versatility of SSH from altimetry and sea level from tide gauges for investigations of decadal climate variability. Three applications of SSH and coastal sea level to the study of decadal change demonstrate the merits of using sea level for investigations of oceanic and atmospheric, episodic and continuous processes. The analyses concern a multidecadal change in storminess along the coast of the Southeast U.S., basin-scale coherent sea level variations in the western boundary of the North Atlantic, and the low-frequency response of the ocean to atmospheric forcing in the Northeast Pacific.