What is the difference between local sea level and global sea level?

On average, sea level is rising around the globe. However, sea level is changing at different rates in different coastal regions as a result of many interacting processes.

This map shows regional trends in sea level, with arrows representing the direction and magnitude of change.

This map shows trends in sea level, with arrows representing the direction and magnitude of change. Most people are surprised to learn that the surface of the ocean is not flat, and that the surface of the sea changes at different rates around the globe.

Did you know?

Global sea level has been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased in recent decades.

Global sea level trends and relative sea level trends are different measurements. Just as the surface of the Earth is not flat, the surface of the ocean is also not flat — in other words, the sea surface is not changing at the same rate at all points around the globe. Sea level rise at specific locations may be more or less than the global average due to many local factors: subsidence, ocean currents, variations in land height, and whether the land is still rebounding from the compressive weight of Ice Age glaciers.

Sea level is primarily measured using tide stations and satellite laser altimeters. Tide stations around the globe tell us what is happening at a local level — the height of the water as measured along the coast relative to a specific point on land. Satellite measurements provide us with the average height of the entire ocean. Taken together, these tools tell us how our ocean sea levels are changing over time.