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Sea level: Dutch coast and worldwide, 1890-2014

The sea level along the Dutch coast steadily rose by about 23 cm during the last 125 years, a change of 1.9 mm per year. This is roughly in line with the sea-level rise worldwide; about 22 cm over the same period. From 1993 onwards global sea levels show an acceleration.

Sea levels along the Dutch coast show a steady, linear increase over the past 125 years

The Dutch Directorate for Public Works and Water management (Rijkswaterstaat) coordinates measurements of sea level along the Dutch North sea coast. There are six stations with unique lengths. They all start before the year 1890: Delfzijl, Harlingen, Den Helder, IJmuiden, Hoek van Holland and Vlissingen. The oldest registrations are for Vlissingen and date from 1862. However, measurements become more reliable from 1890 onwards. From that year all data were gathered in an automated way. Moreover, all measurements were fixed relative to the same point, the NAP. We have averaged the six stations and estimated a trend over the period 1890-2014. Trend model estimates with uncertainties come from the Integrated Random Walk (IRW) model (Visser et al., 2015). See figure.

The trend in the data appears to show a regular pattern for he complete series 1890-2014. In jargon this pattern is denoted by the term 'linear'. The annual increment accounts for
1,86 ± 0,15 mm per year (± 2-s limits). Seen over the complete period 1890-2014 sea level rose by 23 cm.
The Dutch Royal Meteorological Institute (KNMI) developed four climate scenarios for the Netherlands. As part of their scenarios sea level rise is given along the Dutch coast up to the year 2100. For details see KNMI (2014) and PBL/KNMI (2015).

No acceleration along the Dutch coast

Analysis of the sea level data averaged over six stations, do not show any acceleration. This is also true for recent years. This finding is based on the estimation of various mathematical trend models (Visser et al., 2015). With 'acceleration' we mean sea level data which show a trend pattern that deviates from linear. A positive deviation points to acceleration, a negative deviation to a deceleration. Our finding is consistent with that presented by Baart et al. (2012).

Wahl et al. (2013) analyse 30 stations along the European North sea coast. They present linear trends for all stations. Their estimates for stations along the Dutch coast correspond well with those presented here (figure 2 and table 1 in the article of Wahl et al.). Linear trends along the Belgium coast have been reported by Verwaest (2005). Wahl et al. (2011) found for stations along the German Bight that stations lying nearest to the Netherlands showed a linear pattern over time. However, stations lying more in the north, showed (small) accelerations in recent years.

Global sea level rise

The trend pattern in global sea level rise has been estimated various research groups. Church and White (2011) found over the period 1901-1990 an annual increment of 1,5 ± 0,2 mm per year; Hay et al. (2015) estimate annual increments of 1,2 ± 0,2 mm per year. Over the period 1993-2010 both research groups report a strong linear increment: 2,8 ± 0,5 mm per year and 3,0 ± 0,7 mm per year, see second graph. Furthermore, the graph shows a sea level series composed on the basis of satellite data, starting in 1993 (Watson et al., 2015). The satellite series shows a pattern that is approximately linear, accounting for 2,6 ± 0,4 mm per year. This value is somewhat lower than that found by Church and White and Hay et al.. However, the differences lie within the uncertainty limits presented.

We note that sea levels vary over different regions of the oceans. These variations come from differences in water temperatures, wind speeds and variations in the gravity field of the earth (even if tide flows are averaged over the globe, the gravity field shows variations). See
Church et al. (2010). Two-weekly maps from satellites give a clear picture of these height variations. See the following animation with two-weekly sea levels over the period 2003-2008: NOAA, Sea level animations.
The role of anthropogenic forcing has been revealed in a recent study of Slangen et al. (2016). Also see Dangendorf (2016).


  • Baart, F., P.H.A.J.M. van Gelder, J. de Ronde and M. van Koningsveld (2012). The effect of the 18.6-year lunar nodal cycle on regional sea-level rise estimates. Journal of Coastal Research 28(2), 511-516.
  • Church, J.A., P.L. Woodworth, T. Aarup and W.S. Wilson (2010). Understanding sea-level rise and variability. Wiley-Blackwell, UK.
  • Church, J.A. and N.J. White (2011). Sea-level rise from the late 19th to the early 21st century. Surveys in Geophysics 32, 585-602.
  • Dangendorf, S. (2016). Human influence on sea-level rise. Nature Climate Change, 6, News and views, 1-2.
  • Hay, C.C., E. Morrow, R.E. Kopp and J.X. Mitrovica (2015). Probabilistic reanalysis of twentieth-century sea-level rise. Nature 517, 481-484.
  • IPCC, 2013. Climate change 2013. The physical science basis. Working group I contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Eds. S. Solomon et al.). Cambridge University Press.
  • KNMI (2014). KNMI'14, climate scenario's for the Netherlands (in Dutch). Publication KNMI.
  • PBL, 2015. Klimaatverandering: Samenvatting van het vijfde IPCC-assessment en een vertaling naar Nederland. PBL and KNMI report (in Dtuch), PBL-publication #1405.
  • Slangen, A.B.A., J.A. Church, C. Agosta, X. Fettweis, B. Marzeion and K. Richter (2016). Anthropogenic forcing dominates global mean sea-level rise since 1970. Nature Climate Change, 6, 701-706.
  • T. Verwaest (2005) De zeespiegelstijging meten, begrijpen en afblokken. Sea level rise along the Belgium coast (in Dutch).
  • Visser, H., S. Dangendorf and A.C. Petersen (2015). A review of trend models applied to sea level data with reference to the "acceleration-deceleration debate". J. of Geophys. Research Oceans 120, 3873-3895.
  • Wahl, T., J. Jensen, T. Frank and I.D. Haigh (2011). Improved estimates of mean sea level changes in the German bight over the last 166 years. Ocean dynamics, 61, 701-715.
  • Wahl, T., I.D. Haigh, P.L. Woodworth, F. Albrecht, D. Dillingh, J. Jensen, R.J. Nicholls, R. Weisse and G. Wöppelmann (2013). Observed mean sea level changes around the North sea coastline from 1800 to present. Earth-Science Reviews 124, 51-67.
  • Watson, C.S., N.J. White, J.A. Church, M.A. King, R.J. Burgette and B. Legresy (2015). Unabated global mean sea-level rise over the satellite altimeter era. Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/NCLIMATE2635.

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Reference for this page

CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR (2016). Sea level: Dutch coast and worldwide, 1890-2014 (indicator 0229, version 09 , 16 November 2016 ). www.environmentaldata.nl. Statistics Netherlands (CBS), The Hague; PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague; RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven; and Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen.

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