Like mercury in a thermometer, ocean waters expand as they warm. This, along with melting glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, drives sea levels higher over the long term. For the past 18 years, the U.S./French Jason-1, Jason-2 and Topex/Poseidon spacecraft have been monitoring the gradual rise of the world’s ocean in response to global warming.
While the rise of the global ocean has been remarkably steady for most of this time, every once in a while, sea level rise hits a speed bump. This past year, it’s been more like a pothole: between last summer and this one, global sea level actually fell by about a quarter of an inch, or half a centimeter.
So what’s up with the down seas, and what does it mean? Climate scientist Josh Willis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., says you can blame it on the cycle of El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific.
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