Global mean sea level has increased about 3 mm/yr over several decades due to increases in ocean mass and changes in sea water density. Ocean mass, accounting for about two-thirds of the increase, can be directly measured by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) and GRACE Follow-On (GFO) satellites. An independent measure is obtained by combining satellite altimetry (measuring total sea level change) and Argo float data (measuring steric changes associated with sea water density). Many previous studies have reported that the two estimates of global mean ocean mass (GMOM) change are in good agreement within stated confidence intervals. Recently, particularly since 2016, estimates by the two methods have diverged. A partial explanation appears to be a spurious variation in steric sea level data. An additional contributor may be deficiencies in Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA) corrections and degree-1 spherical harmonic (SH) coefficients. We found that erroneous corrections for GIA contaminate GRACE/GFO estimates as time goes forward. Errors in GIA corrections affect degree-1 SH coefficients, and degree-1 errors may also be associated with ocean dynamics. Poor estimates of degree-1 SH coefficients are likely an important source of discrepancies in the two methods of estimating GMOM change.
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